NPR logo Is 'Oil Spill' The Right Phrase For What Is Happening In The Gulf?

Is 'Oil Spill' The Right Phrase For What Is Happening In The Gulf?

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest graphic about the slick's spread. (noaa.gov i

How the slick is spreading. (noaa.gov) hide caption

toggle caption
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest graphic about the slick's spread. (noaa.gov

How the slick is spreading. (noaa.gov)

Every media outlet, it seems, refers to what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico as an "oil spill":

NPR
The New York Times
USA TODAY
The Times-Picayune
BBC News

The White House is using the phrase. So is the American Petroleum Institute. The U.S. Coast Guard says it is battling an oil spill.

Definitions of just what an "oil spill" is aren't all that easy to find. Organizations using the phrase just assume it's easily understood. But the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers this:

"An oil spill is oil, discharged accidentally or intentionally, that floats on the surface of water bodies as a discrete mass and is carried by the wind, currents and tides. Oil spills can be partially controlled by chemical dispersion, combustion, mechanical containment and adsorption. They have destructive effects on coastal ecosystems."

OECD says it borrowed the language from the U.N.

The oil pouring out of an underwater wellhead off the coast of Louisiana is certainly being "discharged." It's obviously floating on the surface. And it could have "destructive effects on coastal ecosystems."

But what's happening isn't exactly the type of "spill" we've become accustomed to seeing in past years. The oil isn't pouring out of a damaged tanker that was holding a finite amount of crude. It's gushing a still-to-be-determined amount of oil for a still-to-be-determined amount of time across a still-to-be-determined area.

So, language lovers, a question occurs: Is there a better word or phrase for the event in the Gulf of Mexico?

— "Oil leak?"
— "Oil eruption?"
— "Oil release?"
— "Oil explosion?"
— "Oil discharge?"
— "Oil geyser?"
— "Oil gusher?"

Or should we just stick with "oil spill?"

Suggestions welcomed in the comments thread.

(H/T to NPR's David Welna for getting us thinking.)

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.