Where an oil spill happens matters more than how big it is

MORE than a week after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, 11 of the rig’s workers are still unaccounted for. The US Coast Guard reckons that 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking out every day, though this is really an informed guess. The great depth of the leaks from the rig makes staunching them a huge technical challenge. Despite the development of some fancy new techniques to deal with oil spills there is a sense of inevitability about the oil’s arrival on shore.

The spill is embarrassing for those Republicans who have campaigned for more off-shore drilling. It is embarrassing too for Barack Obama, who accepted more drilling off the coast to ease the passage of legislation on climate change. On April 30th the White House announced that new off-shore drilling would be suspended until the cause of the accident could be verified. …