Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has launched an incessant campaign to wish away the spill with outrageous rhetoric, claiming it’s “not a disaster,” explaining there’s no need to clean up the spill because “[t]he ocean will take care of this on its own.” But Limbaugh actually got something right about the disaster on his radio show today, noting that the BP spill is “not unique” nor “exceptional”:
Oil is as much a part of nature as air is. Oil is as much a part of nature as water is. … If we didn’t do anything, it would recover. It might take a lot of years, but it would recover. The Earth is an amazing thing. Now, I’m not suggesting anything other than trying to present you a fact. More oil [is] spilled every year in Africa, in Nigeria, than so far in the Gulf. So it’s not unique, it is not exceptional, it is not the largest. Mexico had a spill that is larger than this. Nobody talks about it except apparently me. Ixtoc I, it went on for nine months.
Indeed, as the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson noted, “like the rest of the oil industry, BP has a long record of tragic, extraordinary environmental disasters, stretching from Alaska to Nigeria.” Limbaugh correctly noted that more oil is spilled in Nigeria’s terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the BP spill thus far. And in the Gulf, there have been dozens of oil well blowouts in recent years, including 39 since 2007 alone. The Ixtoc I spill, which Limbaugh mentioned, released an estimated 3.5 million barrels into the Gulf before the well was contained nine months later, making it the largest accidental offshore spill in history.
However, Limbaugh is very wrong when he repeatedly claims that the spill will take care of itself. “[The] Exxon Valdez spill is cleaned up and everything is back to normal,” Limbaugh claimed last week. In fact, numerous studies have found that “oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill is still being ingested by wildlife more than 20 years after the disaster.” “It just smells like a gas station,” Prince William Sound Science Center’s Kate Alexander told CBS News last month of the remnants of the spill. Moreover, the BP spill is especially pernicious due to its location in the fertile and fragile ecosystem of the northern Gulf.
Moreover, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow observed that despite the intervening 30 years, the techniques used to clean up the Ixtoc I spill were very similar to those used in the Gulf today (Ixtoc I’s cofferdam effort was called a “sombrero,” while BP’s was dubbed a “top hat”). The fact that this spill is not unique underscores what a growing number of Americans are realizing — that we need to curb our reliance on offshore drilling and our dependence on fossil fuel more generally.