Should We Rename the BP Gulf Oil Spill?


Photo via the US Coast Guard

It's a question that's been raised repeatedly over the course of the 3-month ordeal in the Gulf of Mexico -- what do we call it? Though most publications and journalists (this one included) have leaned towards variations on "the BP spill" or "the Gulf spill" many have been dissatisfied with this terminology from the start. This isn't merely a "spill" after all, it's the biggest environmental disaster in US history, with oil continuously pumped into the Gulf for months on end. That being the case, there's got to be a more fitting moniker for the thing -- here are some ideas ... The question is being posed today over at Grist's popular Ask Umbra feature -- a reader complained that 'spill' makes like of the event, and I'd tend to agree with her. You 'spill' milk, or your beer. Above ground pools 'spill' over. Even oil tankers can 'spill' their contents.

But that's it -- once something is 'spilled', it doesn't keep gushing out of the seafloor for three months. Climate Progress's Joe Romm raised this point early on in the spill's timeline. He suggested that what was really happening was closer to an 'underground volcano of oil', which was undoubtedly true. That one seemed to have too many syllables to catch on in the press, and maybe struck some as a tad hyperbolic -- even though it's not (50,000 barrels of oil a day streaming out of a pressurized hole qualifies for a volcano metaphor in my book).

So the question remains -- what do we call it? Some find -- and Umbra mentions this one -- 'BP oil disaster' to be a potential candidate. I've used this one in posts from time to time, along with the likes of 'BP oil crisis'. Both strike me as too nonspecific, however, and less intuitive for describing the actual event. I've also seen BP oil geyser, and the many variations on oilpocalypse and oilgeddon, but I can't imagine those terms sticking around 10 years from now.

Which is sort of the point of this exercise, and it's not as trivial as you might think. Labels and terminology can play a significant role in shaping people's opinions of events -- an effective term may help keep the tragedy more accurately defined down the line, when folks start forgetting the details of the spill (seems hard to believe that could happen now, but it will...). So what are your thoughts? Any new ideas out there?

One final requirement -- whatever the name ends up being, it must include 'BP'. They own the responsibility for this spill, and decades on, if the popular imagination obscures their involvement, they'll have caught a lucky break they do not deserve.

More on the BP Gulf Spill
Breaking Down the BP Gulf Spill Blame Game
Surprise! The BP Gulf Spill is as Big as these Nations and States

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