Riding the Wind

Whom would you choose: Ms Windy or Mr Crude?

185 million gallons of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling operation explosion flowed into the Gulf of Mexico for over 3 months, from April 25 – August 4, 20101. The slick covered 68,000 square miles2, and that doesn’t account for the oil that spread out under the water. It was by all accounts an environmental disaster: the spill sullied 966 miles of shoreline and directly killed thousands of birds and turtles. Fish, whales and dolphins also died. The long term affects on nature are unknown3. In Prince William Sound, where the Exxon Valdez spilled a mere 11 million gallons of oil in 1989, there are still traces of oil 21 years later4. By tying up the case with appeal after appeal, Exxon has still not paid the full $500 million it owes in damages over that spill. BP paid out $11.2 billion in cleanup and compensation costs by October 1, 2010, and has pledged to start a $20 billion fund to continue paying for damages, but if Exxon is any example, perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath...

Oil spills are not new: in 1910, an out-of-control, pressurized oil well in Kern County, California, blew and spewed 378 million gallons of oil over 18 months.5 In 1979, two large spills occurred, releasing more than 150 million gallons of oil into the waters off Mexico and in the Caribbean.6 The largest oil spill occurred during the Gulf War in 1991, when the Iraqi military burned 700 Kuwait oil wells, unleashing 43 billion gallons of oil in a conflagration that took 10 months to put out.7

Wind power, on the other hand, is an energy source without this potential for disaster. If you knocked a wind turbine over, the result would be, well, a knocked over turbine. It would cost a pretty penny to replace, and one would need to be sure to pick up the pieces, but there wouldn’t gallons of toxins flowing hundreds of miles like when something goes wrong with an oil well.

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