Is the Worst of the Oil Spill Really Over?

Some are moving on, others urge caution

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With the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico stopped and much of the surface oil reduced, many are already wondering if we've overestimated the damage of the disaster. That has led to another debate: Is the oil spill really behind us, or is there more to come, whether in the form of surface oil, dispersants spreading into the food chain, or some other unforeseen effect? Here's what observers have to say.

  • We Can Rule Out Worst-Case Scenarios  The Atlantic's Megan McArdle asks, "How bad is it really? ... There's a phase in disasters--often quite long--when people start treating the worst-case scenarios as if they are the most likely scenarios.  I suspect this is a bit of hard-wired evolutionary programming, and if you're a hunter-gatherer tribe at risk from disasters, this is probably quite useful. ... the actual effects we're seeing turn out to be not-so-bad as the projections."
  • Media Falling Into 'Mission Accomplished Trap'  The Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard warns of over-reacting to good and bad news. "Which isn’t to say that reporters should ignore signs of recovery or trump up negative impacts where they don’t exist, but the media must avoid falling into the 'mission-accomplished' trap until government, industry, and independent scientists have collected more data. Avoiding alarmism on one hand and complacency on the other is a difficult job, however."
  • 'Roll Up the Cleanup'  Time's Bryan Walsh says it's time to go home. "With the well capped and surface oil fast disappearing from the Gulf of Mexico, the response to the BP spill seems ready to move to a new phase—and possibly a less intense one. ... Officials are confident the Macondo well's days are numbered. ... Partially as a result of that success at the wellhead, cleanup operations along the coast are beginning to downshift. Workers are removing boom in lighter-hit states like Alabama, and swimming advisories have been lifted in some parts of Gulf. Ditto with fishing."
  • Worst May Remain Unforeseen  Conservative blogger Jonathan Adler cautions, "The reality is we have sufficiently little experience with this sort of thing, so we don't really know how bad an environmental disaster the spill is and will be -- and may not for some time.  Some of the easier to measure projections may have fizzled, but the spill could still be having significant as-yet-unseen ecological effects that we do not yet understand -- and may not for some time."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.