How the Oil Spill Changed the Country


Now that BP has at least temporarily stopped oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since April 20, we want to take a step back and take stock of the situation.

First, the well blowout has been a disaster for the Gulf of Mexico, BP, and the Obama Administration. Even if the early good news about the new well cap turns out to be a harbinger of resolution, much damage has already been done. To review, here are five key stories for understanding what really happened -- and what still might.

By the Numbers:

86 days: Length of time oil poured from the well into the Gulf of Mexico
180,000,000 gallons: High government estimate of the amount of oil estimated to have escaped
$13,700,000,000: Dollar value of that crude at July 15 prices
8 Hours: Amount of time it takes the U.S. to consume 180 million gallons of crude
11,000,000 gallons: Size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill
40%: Amount of BP's market value lost between April 20 and July 14
7%: Jump in BP's stock jump on news of the successful early tests today

"The Spill, The Scandal, and the President" by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone
Key Quote:
Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency's culture of corruption. He permitted it to rubber-stamp dangerous drilling operations by BP - a firm with the worst safety record of any oil company - with virtually no environmental safeguards, using industry-friendly regulations drafted during the Bush years. He calibrated his response to the Gulf spill based on flawed and misleading estimates from BP - and then deployed his top aides to lowball the flow rate at a laughable 5,000 barrels a day, long after the best science made clear this catastrophe would eclipse the Exxon Valdez."

"Gulf Oil Spill: Could It Change Obama's Energy Policy" by Bryan Walsh in TIME
Key Quote:
"If the oil spill should influence energy policy going forward, comprehensive climate and energy legislation -- already a dim hope -- might end up as one more casualty of the accident."

"Historian: It's too soon to expect large-scale responses to the Gulf leak" an interview with eminent environmental historian Adam Rome in Grist
Key Quote:
"The Santa Barbara oil spill happened in January 1969. Right away, people were appalled. In Santa Barbara itself, the spill brought together people who had never been allied before -- countercultural students and very wealthy Republicans alike were shocked. But still, it took a long time for it to lead to something more than just "we might need more regulation on offshore oil," and more than just preventing that one specific thing from occurring again."

"Legacy of an Oil Spill: 20 Years After Exxon Valdez" a PDF report by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council
Key Quote:
"Visitors to Prince William Sound and the North Gulf Coast of Alaska today again experience spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife and see little evidence of the spill. Yet the area has not fully recovered. In some areas, Exxon Valdez oil still remains and is toxic. Some injured species have yet to recover to pre-spill levels. This long-term damage was not expected at the time of the spill and was only just starting to be recognized in 1999, at the 10th anniversary."

"Photos BP Doesn't Want You to See" by Julie Dermansky on The Atlantic
Key Quote:


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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