The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico presents British Petroleum with a problem of unprecedented severity — a limitless gush in deep waters — forcing the company to grasp for fixes to a problem that it never envisioned.
The problem with the spill that followed the Deepwater Horizon explosion is that it isn’t a spill: It’s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch — impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.
“Everything about it is unprecedented,” said geochemist Christopher Reddy, an oil-spill expert and head of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “All our knowledge is based on a one-shot event. … With this, we don’t know when it’s going to stop.”