Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oil's Well That Ends Well

Reports are that as of Sunday, the relief well that BP dug to intersect with the blown-out Deepwater Horizon well has served its purpose: the flow of oil into the Gulf has stopped.

This is, of course, good news. The bad news is that, in the meantime, untold millions of gallons have gushed into the Gulf. The biota, non-human and human, in the affected area will never be the same.

The well blew on April 20. It's now September 22. That's five mighty momentous months.

If this incident has taught us any lesson, it's that some things are far easier to start than to stop. Wars. Wildfires. Love affairs.

And, gee, wells.

Will the closing of the BP well mark a moment of rebirth, or simply a pause in the ruinous train of consequences that brought us to this point? When we look back at this event twenty years from now, will we see this day as a boost for clean energy, or a reprieve for its dirty predecessor?

It's impossible to say. On the one hand, even as I write, new wells--oil and natural gas--are being dug, around the world as well as in my own backyard. On the other, a growing coalition of activists, scientists, and politicians is moving, however haltingly, in the direction of a new energy future.

We commemorate September 11 as the day our nation was confronted with, and triumphed over, a great evil. Let's hope that, years from now, we remember its double--September 22--in somewhat the same way, as a triumph over our own worst instincts and as a birthday for the good.

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