Commentary: Gulf oil spill toll could have been worse, but conclusive science still out

The Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 15, 2010 

Alaskans who remember the grim numbers of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 hope that the some encouraging signs pan out for our fellow Americans in the Gulf states. Spring predictions of a cataclysmic environmental disaster appear overblown. It may be that when the damage is toted up, we'll find that the Gulf spill doesn't match the damage in Alaska.

That's the gist of a New York Times report published in the Daily News on Tuesday.

If true, such news provides a measure of relief, but no reason to pop champagne corks.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill was a disaster from the start because 11 people were killed. In the months to follow, almost 5 million barrels of oil gushed out as BP, other companies and government agencies struggled to respond. Oil fouled Gulf waters, marshes and beaches. Businesses and livelihoods took a tremendous hit, from tourism to fisheries to the oil industry itself. Marine life suffered.

What's needed now is a fair, clear-eyed assessment of the damages. We gain nothing by either overstating or understating the consequences of what happened and is happening in the Gulf.

To that end, let's remember a lesson we've learned in Alaska -- good science takes time, and preliminary conclusions don't always stand the test of time.

To read the complete editorial, visit

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