“Gusher,” “Disaster,” “Blowout”: What to Call the Gulf (Spill)?


Day 62 and we’re well beyond the point where “oil spill” does justice to the slow motion tragedy unfolding in the Gulf. Spill, of course, suggest that a finite quantity has been released. But not only is the Gulf gusher still gushing, we still don’t know exactly how much it’s spewing. The latest federal estimates the well could be leaking as much as 65,000 barrels per day. An internal BP document, meanwhile, indicates that it could reach 100,000 barrels a day if the worst-case-scenario plays out.

So how should those of us reporting on the disaster refer to it? “Spill” has been the noun of choice, likely because it is both short and the term we are most familiar with based on previous oil accidents, like the Exxon Valdez. But this piece in the Biloxi Sun Herald yesterday raises a good point: Why don’t reporters start referring to it by something more accurate?

Some of the ideas floated in the piece:

Gusher
Catastrophe
Life-altering catastrophe
Debacle
Calamity
Technological disaster
Big mess
Leak
Blowout

I figured we should throw this out to readers as well. What do you think reporters should be calling this?

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.