If you can see it from orbit – it’s not a “spill”!
First things first, we need to frame this topic a little better. Framing the debate is a tactic that, if
done well can give a decided advantage to one side or the other.
In this case the word “spill” has been used to describe this
environmental catastrophe. I believe this term has been used to
trivialize the extent of the problem, to minimize public perception, and
used as a delaying tactic. I think that BP thinks that a “spill” can be ignored or covered up –
like it was in Nigeria.
By its very definition, a spill has a finite
limit. There is a known volume that, when exhausted, will complete the
spill. The spill will be finished, because there is no more liquid
within the container. Seems pretty basic, right? An oil tanker
can spill. A glass of milk can spill…
Framed differently – framed correctly – what
we are dealing with is a “gusher”. By definition again: “an oil well
from which oil flows freely and in
large amounts, without having to be pumped”. This is a gusher
from Oklahoma. What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is not a spill.
It is a “gusher”.
So now that we have cleared up that
particular miscommunication, let’s focus on the actual problem,
mitigation tools and potential long-term solutions.
So the logical first and second questions are – where is the oil?
And how much is there? Well, here is a day by day gusher map,
courtesy of the NY Times with an estimated 34-100Million gallons poured
into our world’s oceans during the almost 2 months since it happened.
It seems odd to me, that BP did not know (or did not want to
know, or did not want the world to know) how much was gushing
out of their oil well. But I will leave that question up to the
investigative reporters, the Congressional hearings and finally by the
litigation lawyers that will be seeking damages, because: “The company’s liability will ultimately be
determined in part by how many barrels of oil are spilled.”
So the next question is – what is being done, now to deal with it?
I’m not on the ground, so I can’t say with certainty what the actual
steps are. We’ve read about the booms, corrals, caps, top-kill,
burnings (complete with endangered sea turtles
and other tactics… But one thing I am sure of, is that this problem
will not be solved without space communications. Just six months ago,
the US Coast Guard deployed a new
communications tool set – “to expand its communications capacity
and take advantage of affordable, emerging commercial satellite
NOAA and the DoD have been supplying remote sensing imagery to the
command centers. Between the robotics, remote sensing, chemical
dispersants, radio and satellite communications between ships, ground
crew and the command center, and the various tracking systems employed;
my hunch is that space and space-age technology is the unsung hero of
So what do we do next? We have to have energy, sure. But does
it have to come from ‘oil’?
Hold that thought, we will come back to it.
Maybe we are looking at this gusher from the wrong angle. Yes,
it is an ecological disaster. Yes, people are out of work. Yes, as if
Louisiana wasn’t already in rough shape, this adds further problems to
the regional economy. Yes, in an unrelated problem (created during the
Bush presidency), Texas, Alabama and Florida will lose 50,000 space, advanced technology and
Yes, Florida anticipates a $1B loss in tourism if the tar balls hit
their shoreline. All of these are true.
Yet, what if we are looking at this gusher from the wrong
perspective? What if we can carve something positive out of this
What if we look at this gusher and say: “We can do better. We
can learn and we can grow. We can make a lasting difference. And this
difference can be big enough to change things. Forever.”
What if this gusher were a short-term problem, but was framed as
We have a lot of people that are angry over this mess. I am. You
probably are too. We also have an amazing resource in the space
community in this region – many of whom are going to be unemployed soon
as a result of the Space Shuttle program closure. Can we take these
remarkable people and retask them, through various governmental agencies
(NASA, NOAA, DoD and DOE) and commercials teams (USA, LockMart, Boeing
and their myriad of support companies)?
It’s been proposed in a number of forums that the US convene an
official conference to study Space Based
It is continually voted up as a primary idea, and it continues to be
officially ignored. I am not saying that SBSP is the be-all-end-all
solution to this energy problem. Because of my efforts developing the Space Elevator
over the past 9 years, I can tell you first hand that SBSP is a really
really really difficult challenge. Not quite, but almost on the scale
and complexity of building an Elevator to Space. Now, I’m not asking
that the US commit to building this system, at least not yet. What I am
asking for is a new, large, revised and unbiased, study on this
You’ve got a gusher that has become a national problem; one that is
compounded by international media exposure and dead animals.
You’ve got a brilliant – and possibly irreplaceable – workforce that
will soon be unemployed. And you’ve got a national security issue
if you don’t solve once-and-for-all the question of energy security.
I believe that this is a near-perfect congruence and a tremendous
opportunity. Assemble the conference. Do the study. If those actions
agree, then move forward on design and development of a system. And if
you do this, then you also unshackle the US from both foreign
governments that do not have our interests at heart, AND from the
environmental catastrophe of almost 4000
floating oil rigs in the Gulf of
This gusher is a mess. Also, we have a mess brewing with our civil
space communities that are in the same region. Surely there is a way to
team these problems and come up with a victory.