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Editorials

Crude News

All summer the news has been full of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 87 days, BP spewed more than four million barrels into the Atlantic, making it the biggest unintentional offshore oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The story became a series of stories, beginning with an explosion that killed 11 workers. Then came the environmental impact, followed by the effect it would have on the fishing and aquaculture industries on the Atlantic Coast - almost 20,000 jobs according to some estimates. Anti-corporation rage figured heavily in the coverage, particularly when US politicians lurched into old independence rhetoric about the mendacity of 'British' petroleum. In the UK it was pointed out that the problem was lax US regulation, and most of the ownership was located outside Britain in any case.

Interest moved on to BP's attempts to control the leak, damned as lacklustre by President Obama, who compared the impact of the spill to that of 9/11.

Then came the discussions about the size of fine the company should be expected to pay. Recent estimates put it at $4.5 billion, but if gross negligence was established in the courts that could be stretched to $14 billion. BP responded by agreeing to sell off $30 billion of assets and pushed out its CEO (prompting an outcry at his £17 million severance package and pension).

Twitter joked about the uselessness of its PR. BP's losses would mean that it had to do more drilling to secure its future. Columnists argued that religious investors - notably the Church of England and the Quaker movement - should turn over their shares in protest (if they should ever have held them in the first place).

Alongside this was detailed coverage of the technical attempt to stop the leak. Viewers and readers became familiar with 'bottom kill' and 'static kill' procedures. Then came a hoo-hah about whether the Scottish Justice Minister had arranged the early release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, in order to obtain an agreement that allowed BP to begin drilling for oil in the Libyan Gulf of Sidra. Almost every story was accompanied by pictures of oil-sodden birds, a reminder of the damage being done to the maritime ecology.

So many stories. A considerable disaster, affecting a global superpower. A country subject to errors made by massive corporations, but at least with some ability to hold them to account. Big news.

One other related story did appear, though difficult to find among the rest of the coverage. 'More oil is spilled in the Nigerian delta every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico spill', it said.