What’s in a blowout’s name?

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The May 1980 issue of Popular Mechanics discusses what at that time was the world’s worst oil spill – the Ixtoc I blowout, which gushed an estimated 140 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico for 10 months. Towards the end of the article we learn that “Ixtoc”, is the Mayan term for “blowout,” or “damn blowout.”  I’m not kidding!

Recently, government officials upwardly revised estimates of the Macondo oil gusher for the fourth time. Despite recent forecasts to the contrary, and BP’s attempts to capture ever greater portions of the released oil, the open wound created by the Deepwater Horizon rig  is on pace to surpass the Ixtoc in terms of total oil spilled. “Macondo” is the name of the doomed fictional town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which gets wiped out by a hurricane. Again, I’m not kidding.

Last year, Australia’s third-worst oil spill  occurred after the Montara oil well blowout became an oil gusher that went unplugged for 73 days. The Spanish translation of “montara” means “mounting,” as in “Big Oil mounting the small people.” And  in at least one Aboriginal dialect, “montara” can be loosely translated as “Don’t Tease the Panther” (kidding, here). “Montara” was also a model name for an ugly recreational vehicles.

May I suggest that we not name potentially catastrophic well sites after blowouts or doomed towns? Can we not tempt the fates any more than necessary? What’s next? Kraken? Hubris I? Monty Burns?

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