Blogging the Oil Spill

April 20, 2010. That is when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. The explosion killed eleven onsite workers and seriously injured over a dozen others. The Gulf of Mexico/BP oil spill is widely recognised to be the largest offshore oil spill in US history.

Each day new stories emerge of the suffering that has been caused to wildlife around the Gulf.

Each day more oil gushes out relentlessly into the Gulf.

Each day that passes hurts the people that rely on the coast for their livelihood.

These are all very emotive issues. Pictures of birds covered in oil and interviews with distraught fishermen pull at even the heaviest of hearts. The mainstream media, to their credit, have not abandoned the “story”. Yet. Instead, they update us 24/7 on the latest from the Gulf coast and the different clean-up operations. Each week even seems to be themed. Early on we had a week of helicopters, hovering, taking aerial shots of the spill. We had a week or so centered almost entirely on the top kill initiative. We had a week on Obama’s perceived inadequate response to the spill. And most recently we had a week of sparring between the President and BP chief Tony Hayward.

 A number of new words and protagonists have entered popular consciousness by way of the press, internet and tv too. Who knew what “top kill” was at the beginning of May? And who had ever heard of Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward? The BP chief’s newfound celebrity status – as the most hated man in America – has its upside. There will now be a big part for a British actor/Russel Crowe to play an odious limey in Deepwater, the movie.

The point of this post was to illustrate how different events and personalities have detracted from many important questions being posed since April 20. But I digressed. Mostly due to events and personalities.

At the early stages of the Deepwater crisis, many commentators were confident that the sheer impact of the spill would force a wholesale rethink on drilling for oil. This hasn’t happened. There has been no meaningful public debate about the future of drilling for oil. The “breaking news” style delivery of the network channels has meant that most media outlets have covered the spill much like any other disaster. They focus on the day-to-day tragedy and human suffering. They focus on the soap opera war of words between the US President and the foreign oil king. Perhaps that is to be expected. News channels are at their most comfortable when they “show and tell”.

So, what about the blogger? Can a blogger really make a difference to the “public debate” I mention? Increasingly, I think the answer is yes. Bloggers have made a real impact on the stuffy world of Westminster politics over the past few years. News presenters often interview prominent bloggers on divisive issues and delve into the “blogosphere” to gauge the temperature online. On the Sky and BBC paper reviews, you are now just as likely to see a blogger as a policy-wonk type figure. In other words, bloggers have clout.

We are approaching two months since the Deepwater explosion occured. We are beginning to hear voices of dissent against our continuing dependence on petrol. In the coming years, bloggers must try to operate in the space that was previously reserved for the political and media elite. Only then can we continue to exert pressure and have a real influence on the terms of the debate.

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