Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
The story of sealing the BP's busted well once and for all still has drama. It just doesn't have dramatic pictures.
The story of sealing the BP's busted well once and for all still has drama. It just doesn't have dramatic pictures. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
It's easy in the news business to know when a big story begins. A plane crashes into a building. A levy crumbles. An explosion destroys a deep-water drilling rig.
But it's often difficult to pick the moment when the story ends. Families grieve for years. Cities rebuild slowly. Lawsuits slog through the courts.
In most big disasters, the effects linger for a long time — but the news cameras don't.
Perhaps that's why this weekend's long-awaited news from the Gulf of Mexico seems so anti-climactic. Today, crews working for BP are expected to permanently seal the well that spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf. To quote Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the crews are finally putting "a stake in the heart of this beast."
Coverage of this news has been underwhelming. Which is odd, because just a couple of months ago the drilling of this relief well was the height of drama. Through all those unsuccessful "top kills" and "junk shots," this was the thing that was going to save the Gulf: the legendary "bottom kill." Crowds would dance in the street. Louisiana shrimpers would embrace oil men on the beaches of Grand Isle.
But now that the momentous day is here, it feels like an afterthought. The well was capped from the top in mid-July. The surface oil dispersed. The beaches were raked mostly clean.
In mid-summer, the national news media packed up the satellite trucks and left the Gulf. And the TV viewers moved on.
Not that the residents of the Gulf Coast have that option. Sludge still lurks on the bottom of the Gulf. The deep-water drilling industry is paralyzed. Shrimpers and oystermen say business still hasn't come back. And the line to get money from BP and the relief fund gets longer every day.
See, the story still has drama. It just doesn't have dramatic pictures. No more grainy underwater video of the that pipe spewing oil. No more birds staring out from under slicked feathers.
The Pew Research Center estimated that for the first hundred days of the disaster, almost a third of television news coverage was devoted to the spill. Last week, stories from the Gulf made up only about 2 percent of the news — even though people told the Pew pollsters that it was still the topic they were most interested in.
Residents of the Gulf Coast still have plenty to worry about, but as of today they do have one less problem. This particular hole won't bother them again. The story of the Macondo well ends as it began: deep under the ocean floor — beyond the reach of news cameras.