When an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico claimed the lives of 11 people, the incident was declared a tragedy. Now, with the rig at the bottom of the Gulf and thousands of gallons of oil leaking to the surface daily, it has become an environmental catastrophe.

Workers for British Petroleum and the Coast Guard have been unable to stop the leak, while an oil slick the size of Jamaica has formed on the surface and is spreading toward the Gulf coast. In a desperate attempt to limit the amount of oil washing up on southeastern beaches, the Coast Guard has announced unprecedented plans to set the oil on fire. While burning the oil will speed up its evaporation, it will also create a particulate-filled cloud that could spread over the land. If efforts to plug the leak remain unsuccessful, BP may have to commission a relief well, which could take up to three months to drill.

While the disaster continues to unfold, the White House had stood by its plans to open coastal areas to offshore drilling. Irate liberals have fired back with calls for a retooled drilling policy, and even staunch conservatives admit this oil spill has far-reaching implications.

  • No More Oil on Troubled Waters   Kate Sheppard of The Guardian contends the oil industry has pattern of suffering deadly--if smaller--accidents. "While the explosion marks the worst oil rig disaster in decades, oil accidents aren't all that rare, despite continued claims from the industry and supporters that drilling can be done in a "safe, environmentally friendly" way," she says, citing an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in 2005 that left 170 people dead. Though such disasters are very rare, Sheppard finds enough evidence to conclude: "the country needs policies that will help move to energy sources that are truly clean and safe. A big offshore expansion is certainly not that."
  • An Undeniable Calamity  "Honesty requires that I acknowledge what an unmitigated disaster this oil rig accident and spill is," begins conservative stalwart Jonah Goldberg. Though the "disaster" for Goldberg is the negative impact the spill will have on offshore drilling, he nonetheless concedes the legitimacy of questioning the policy after such a catastrophic event. "Environmentalists will legitimately have a new horror story to point to for a very long time," he affirms.
  • There Must Be Action  At Firedoglake, an astounded Seymour Friendly reports the White House's decision to stick by its drilling policy with a mixture of disbelief and disgust. "You read that right," he splutters. "Obama is shrugging off the Horizon’s explosion, and the still uncontained leak and the rig wreckage." Friendly sees no place for offshore drilling in any environmentally sound plan. "This disaster shows conclusively that in all likelihood, expanded offshore oil drilling should be stripped from the administration’s climate change legislation where, perversely, it resides." As for the spill itself, Friendly hangs that on the government as well:
The Federal government has so doted on the oil industry that there isn’t even a response capacity in place to address potential spills currently feasible, leaving a huge gaping potential for disaster after disaster in offshore "exploration". We cannot have another Deepwater Horizon, ever.
  • 'Really, Mr. Gibbs?'  asks Turkana at The Left Coaster, arguing the White House's inaction represents a failure that goes beyond this single disaster:
In a time of crisis, you don't continue to promote that which is causing the crisis. You teach people how it is causing the crisis and why we have to stop it. You change the very nature of the conversation. You use the science. You use every political skill and opportunity you have. You teach people that we have to change the nature of our behavior. You teach people that we have to change the nature of our economy. You teach people that we don't have time to waste.
This is a time for transformational change. As if we are in a crisis. Because we are.
  • No More 'Drill Baby, Drill'  Miami Herald cartoonist Jim Morin grimly parodies the slogan beloved by conservatives, depicting a couple walking along a beach with oil lapping at their feet. The wife wonders whether anyone will want to visit Florida anymore, and the husband glumly responds: "Nil baby, nil."