PRINT November 2010


representations of oil spills

HAVE WE ALREADY FORGOTTEN? On April 20, 2010, a high-pressure methane bubble shot up through the drilling pipe of Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig operated on behalf of British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico. The gas exploded and killed eleven workers; the giant rig was still burning two days later when it sank, and over the course of the next eighty-four days the ruptured mile-down well released approximately 206 million gallons of oil, constituting the largest petrochemical “spill” in history. Images played a unique role in the crisis, accompanying it at every turn but also failing, by definition, to capture that which could not be made visible. What we could see were tragic images of oil-coated shorebirds, sublime satellite photographs of iridescent oil slicks on the ocean surface, and stream-of-catastrophe footage that brought the wellhead gusher onto computer screens around

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