According to The Onion, the greatest environmental disaster could be oil that actually makes it safely into our cars and planes, gets burnt for fuel and pollutes the atmosphere:
“We’re looking at a crisis of cataclysmic proportions,” said Charles Hartsell, an environmental scientist at Tufts University. “In a matter of days, this oil may be refined into a lighter substance that, when burned as fuel in vehicles, homes, and businesses, will poison the earth’s atmosphere on a terrifying scale.”
“Time is of the essence,” Hartsell added. “If this is allowed to continue, the health of every American could be put at risk.”
At the risk of killing the joke by explaining it—and now it’s too late—the environmental damage created by actually burning all the oil we use will dwarf the impact of the crude we’ve spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, whatever it might be. (And it’s not just climate change or air pollution like smog—the oil refinery process alone can be extremely polluting, as those who lived near BP’s Texas City refinery have learned.) And the oil BP spilled—about 5 million barrels worth—is just a quarter of the oil the U.S. alone uses every day. Though BP’s well is almost fully sealed—give or take an annulus— the battle over the environmental (and political, and economic) toll of our oil addiction will continue for a long, long time.