IT WAS AS IF GOD had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.
— Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
In Cocodrie, Louisiana, the boats appear more solidly built than the homes, perhaps because the houses all rest on stilts to avoid being washed away by storm surges. The land here fades into the murky waters of the Mississippi River's delta, with no clear end until suddenly you are out of the marsh grass-lined channels and into the darker blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The boats are more solid for a reason: fishing. Terrebonne Parish, which encompasses Cocodrie and many other towns like it, hauls in roughly 20 percent of Louisiana's seafood catch, which, in turn, is the nation's largest.
That seafood bounty relies on a vast wetland estuary that has been slowly but surely turned into the largest oil and gas complex on the planet over the last century. All in service of the American high-octane lifestyle, which encompasses everything from hurtling around inside large chunks of steel to eating seafood dragged out of the sea by diesel power.
The American fondness for both oil and shrimp came into direct conflict in April of 2010 when, as you may recall, oil giant BP suffered a massive blowout at its aptly named Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, sinking the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killing eleven workers. Was it a case of ignorance, the naming of that well, a random selection or dark humor? To be sure, after the spill began, nobody knew where the “limits of reality lay.” Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and the leak on the seafloor could not be capped. All told, five million barrels spewed into the Gulf — or less oil than runs off the nation's parking lots after rainstorms each year.
Naturally, books have been written to plumb the depths of BP's catastrophe, if not so much the ever-deepening oil addiction — in the memorable words of oil-man turned President, George W. Bush — that made it possible. Joel Achenbach's A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea, for example, explores why the damn hole was so hard to plug, as it mesmerizingly spewed oil day after day on a live Webcam. The simple answer is that we have reached the end of easy oil. We are now, quite literally, in uncharted waters when it comes to searching for petroleum, our addiction (and environmental prohibitions) driving us farther offshore and into deeper and deeper seas.
The Macondo well lay nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and spewed more than 50,000 barrels a day into the deep sea from leaks in its 450-ton "blowout preventer," which signally failed to prevent the blowout. Pressures and temperatures at that depth meant no human could ever approach the well directly, instead relying on the clumsy ministrations...read more