A Literary Archive of Rigs, Wrecks, and Spills

May 4, 2010
Outside Magazine

Picture 5 Outside has a history of covering big environmental disasters. To understand the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it helps to have an understanding of where it stands in the history of oil spills. That's not to say this list is a ranking of the worst spills in recent history. They're all different. They're all damaging. Here are five archived Outside stories that deal in some way with the Gulf of Mexico or past spills. Read them, if you want to bring the environmental talk around the water cooler to the next level.

5. Ready, Aim, Sushi, By Thayer Walker
If a shark doesn't kill you, shallow-water blackout or a giant propeller might. But the spearfishermen free­diving the oil rigs off Louisiana's coast don't let that get in the way of the hunt for fresh tuna.
Quote: The 3,800-plus production platforms that pincushion the Gulf of Mexico face a constant threat from hurricanes. In 2005, the most damaging season in the Gulf oil fields, Katrina and Rita destroyed 108 structures and caused more than 7.1 million gallons of oil to spill across southeast Louisiana. Still, Clasen, like many Gulf residents, accepts this dance of disaster as routine.

4.Slick, By Peter Maas
Alan Dershowitz, meet Steven Donziger. On behalf of 30,000 inhabitants of Ecuador's remote Oriente region, this New York lawyer is putting it to Big Oil. But will his multi-billion-dollar lawsuit establish a global precedent—or is he just looking for a scapegoat for one of the nastiest messes on earth?
Quote: The Frente, as it's known, is based in Lago Agrio, a gritty oil town of 35,000 in northeastern Ecuador's humid, jungly Oriente region, in a second-floor warren outfitted with furniture the Salvation Army might reject. As a gnat, the Frente measures success in humble terms René Descartes would understand: We survive, therefore we are. But something funny is happening on the way to the glorious defeats that would seem to be its destiny. The group has a fighting chance of winning a landmark environmental-damage lawsuit against Chevron, one that could cost the conglomerate an estimated $6 billion in cleanup expenses. The suit was brought by 48 Oriente inhabitants on behalf of 30,000 fellow residents of the oil-rich region—members of the Cofán, Secoya, and other tribes, as well as settlers who arrived in recent decades. The plaintiffs allege that, between 1964 and 1992, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into an area the size of Rhode Island—a brew that allegedly included 18 million gallons of oil, nearly twice the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

3. The Captain Went Down with the Ship, By Daniel Coyle
PREMISE ONE: Eight years ago a drunk Joe Hazelwood piloted the Exxon Valdez into a reef.
Eight years ago Joe Hazelwood martyred himself out of pride.
After much suffering and introspection, Joe Hazelwood has found peace.
He's resolved absolutely nothing.
"Let's see if we can miss the reef this time," Joseph Hazelwood says to me. Then he laughs.

2. A Clot in the Heart of the Earth, by Grant Sims
Local fishermen fight the lost war of the Valdez oil spill
Quote: Corral sleeps on deck; when he awakens, he sees the oil. It is thick and sludgy. Two red snappers ride belly-up on the surface. Corral sees no other dead wildlife, but as the Pagan leaves the cove he watches a small flock of murres trying to lift off ahead of the hull. They flap and flounder, and beyond them, five sea otters are frantic. Oil-soaked, they are having trouble staying on top. They pop up through the oil, swimming violently, rolling, trying to scrape their thick coats clean. Then they sink.

1. Postcard from the Apocalypse, By Tim Cahill
Kuwait is burning. Wish you were here.
Quote: During the occupation of Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers often defecated in the finest rooms of the finest houses they could find. It was a gesture of hatred and ignorance and contempt. Then, in retreat, the Iraqis literally set Kuwait on fire. There was no strategic significance to this, no military advantage for the retreating Iraqi troops. Blowing the oil wells—nearly all the oil wells in the country—was the environmental equivalent of crapping on the carpet.

--Joe Spring

Filed To: Adventure, Science, Nature

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