That’s pretty basic – we learn that one pretty early, and if we have teachers who aren’t just taking up space until retirement, we know by seventh grade why that is – water is what is known as a polar molecule with uneven electron sharing and the molecule is formed by hydrogen bonds. A water molecule carries a slight positive charge at one end and a slight negative charge at the other. Oil, on the other hand, is a hydrocarbon that results in a non-charged molecule formed by carbon bonds that release a LOT of energy when they are broken.

It is lust for that energy that makes human beings do stupid things, like build off-shore drilling rigs to extract oil from beneath the oceans.

This is a game that is simply not worth the candle.

Sane people have always known this, and we have had empirical proof since January 1969, when a gas blowout occurred beneath a Union Oil drilling platform located about six miles off shore from Santa Barbara. Over the next eleven days, 200,000 gallons of crude oil would bubble to the surface, and the slick would eventually cover 800 square miles of ocean and affect 35 miles of coastline. Shore birds such as plovers and willets fled the area, but diving birds became oil-soaked and many died.

Nearly 3700 birds were estimated to have perished because of contact with oil. Aerial surveys a year later found only 200 grebes in an area that had previously drawn 4000 to 7000.

Marine mammals were poisoned. For weeks the tides brought in the corpses of seals and dolphins, and gray whales who traversed the channel as part of their regular migratory route to their calving grounds in the warm waters off the Baja peninsula avoided the area.

The Santa Barbara spill was such an ecological disaster that the very first Earth Day grew out of it a year later.

I have been thinking about the Santa Barbara spill as the reality of the devastation of the Deepwater Horizon spill sets in. And as the oil spreads and gets closer and closer to the delicate marshlands off Louisiana,  I keep hearing that George Santayana quote about people who don’t learn from history being doomed to repeat it over and over and over again.

And that was before they started to come clean about just how much oil is bubbling up from beneath the seabed. So far they are admitting to five thousand barrels a day – do I hear  ten?

Government officials said late Wednesday night that oil might be leaking from a well in the Gulf of Mexico at a rate five times that suggested by initial estimates.

In a hastily called news conference, Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard said a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had concluded that oil is leaking at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, not 1,000 as had been estimated. While emphasizing that the estimates are rough given that the leak is at 5,000 feet below the surface, Admiral Landry said the new estimate came from observations made in flights over the slick, studying the trajectory of the spill and other variables.

[…]

Admiral Landry said President Obama had been notified. She also opened up the possibility that if the government determines that BP, which is responsible for the cleanup, cannot handle the spill with the resources available in the private sector, that Defense Department could become involved to contribute technology.

Wind patterns may push the spill into the coast of Louisiana as soon as Friday night, officials said, prompting consideration of more urgent measures to protect coastal wildlife. Among them were using cannons to scare off birds and employing local shrimpers’ boats as makeshift oil skimmers in the shallows.

Part of the oil slick was only 16 miles offshore and closing in on the Mississippi River Delta, the marshlands at the southeastern tip of Louisiana where the river empties into the ocean. Already 100,000 feet of protective booms have been laid down to protect the shoreline, with 500,000 feet more standing by, said Charlie Henry, an oil spill expert for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at an earlier news conference on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, cleanup crews began conducting what is called an in-situ burn, a process that consists of corralling concentrated parts of the spill in a 500-foot-long fireproof boom, moving it to another location and burning it. It has been tested effectively on other spills, but weather and ecological concerns can complicate the procedure.

Can I just say that when bodies of water burn, something is deeply, tragically fucked up?

The people of southern California are still pissed off about the Santa Barbara spill 41 years later. You think the residents of the Gulf Coast are going to have shorter attention spans, especially with Katrina so fresh in memory?