I began to get suspicious when the BBC kept showing me the same heavily oiled pelican struggling in the waters off Louisiana. Is the oil spill in the gulf being exaggerated? Here is the sum of fatalities so far: 11 oil workers killed in the explosion; 1,296 birds, 17 sea turtles and three dolphins. The environmental damage seems to be far less than that caused by the Exxon Valdiz in Alaska, and the human casualties, awful though they are, are far fewer than caused by the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea where an American company was drilling in British waters.
One of the problems is that we are not very good at estimating scale. The size of the spillage compared to the size of the Gulf is the same as one drop of oil in an Olympic size swimming pool. Moreover, oil, being a natural product, is eliminated in natural ways. What people don't realise is that there are always small natural oil leaks in the Gulf and that consequently there are oil degrading bacteria in the sea. Given the ambient temperature, about 50% of the oil spill has already evaporated. There is talk of oil below the surface, but energy engineers are sceptical, since oil is less dense than water.
Journalists sent to the area are complaining that they can't find oil to photograph. Predictions are that the beaches will be normal before Christmas, fishing will be back in two months and the shellfish industry in two years.
So why the over-reaction? Opinion seems to be that the lawyers are driving it. With over a million families to feed in the US, lawyers must scramble for every morsel they can find.