Calling All Armchair Volunteers — The Gulf is Still Your Responsibility

Before April 20, 2010, the phrase "environmental disaster" was almost synonymous with the Exxon Valdez oil spill that tarnished the beautiful waters of the Prince Edward Sound by spilling nearly 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into its waters. Now, the only thing on the minds of Americans when they hear this same phrase involves merely just two letters: B-P. Conducting a drilling exploration 42 miles southeast of Venice Louisiana, the Transocean Limited Rig Deepwater Horizon suddenly exploded as it was drilling beneath 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 feet under the seabed. With eleven workers from the rig missing in the depths of the ocean, no one was prepared for the massive disaster that would ensue and would eventually relieve Exxon Valdez of the most devastating human-caused disaster ever to occur in our history.

In the wake of a national disaster of this magnitude that is greatly affecting the natural resources that call the waters home and the livelihoods of those who depend on the once-pure Gulf waters, it is important for everybody to immerse themselves in the incident and lend a hand to rectify this horrible disaster. The first step in addressing the disaster is to simply learn about the details of the spill. Showing interest in the spill not only pushes authorities to act more urgently, but also educates the population about these types of environmental disasters. This exposure will then hopefully lead to solutions that will prevent similar situations in the future. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, "Waterworld" actor Kevin Costner invested in and helped design his own centrifugal oil-and-water separators that act as a floating vacuum cleaner that supposedly cleans 210,000 gallons of oily water a day. While the average person does not have the means to design such an intricate and technologically advanced instrument, small acts of kindness go a very long way as well.

Looking at the timeline of the disaster, I monitored activity from online news sites associated with the spill to see if members of the population were investigating the incident themselves and putting forth an effort to learn about the devastating disaster. Looking at the top ten news syndicates, I analyzed activity on the pages related to the Gulf Spill and tried to associate the daily web activity surrounding the spill with the actual events of the disaster. My goal was to see what events of the disaster incited people to start investigating the spill on their own. Using this information, I then took it a step further to monitor those sites that allowed people to aid the cleanup efforts and help those suffering from the economic damages of the spill. Comparing the activity of those seeking information regarding the spill and also those looking to lend a hand in the cleanup effort I saw some interesting results:

As this event initially began to ravage the Gulf Coast, it was pretty evident how badly the public misjudged the seriousness of the spill. This came as no surprise seeing as BP initially downplayed the spills capacity for damage, and clearly tried to save their public image by brushing the news surrounding the gravity of the disaster under the rug. Another trend I saw associated with the internet activity is that most of the spikes in the prospects line graph are centered around positive events and setbacks in the efforts to alleviate the damage of the spill. For example, the first spike occurs when President Obama initially visits the Gulf and officially deems the disaster "a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental event." After officially declaring the calamity of the disaster, the public really began to investigate the spill and seek information about what was actually going on in the Gulf Coast. As time went by and the danger of the disaster seemed more imminent, you can see the spikes in the Prospect line are maxing out at a greater level of users. This is to say, as BP employed more and more strategies to stop crude oil from gushing into the ocean, the public started to realize how difficult of a situation was at hand and how much actual damage this spill could impose upon the Gulf Coast. It was no coincidence that the greatest spike came on May 27 when the spill was officially declared more disastrous than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill and also the day the highly touted operation "Top Kill" showed some early promise. Two days later, when scientists discovered that operation "Top Kill" was not stopping the spill flow, users again flooded news sites to discover the bad news.

Where do users go to get there news surrounding the disaster? In addition to monitoring web activity on sites pertaining to the Gulf oil spill and comparing it to the actual events of the disaster, I also thought it would be interesting to see what sites users visited to get their news about the disaster. Compiling a distribution of these results, this is what I found:

It was interesting to see that most people were getting their news from BP’s company website, but when you actually visit the site it is evident why so many people are referring to the site for news about the disaster. BP’s site which chronicles the response to the oil spill gives the most up to date information regarding the spill and also was the first website to release photographs and videos of the spill. Since BP is the perpetrator of the spill, it makes sense they would have the most inside track on the response to the disaster as well as the most up to date information regarding its cleanup. On the contrary, you would expect users to be wary about the information relayed on the site since BP’s entire public image depends on how they handle the spill. The second most visited news site was CNN, which garnered so many hits because it is a major international news source that many users visit frequently for their daily news.

So as you surf the internet and come across the provoking images of animals covered in sticky black oil, remember you can do more than just cringe at the thought of this deadly spill. Although inexperienced volunteers are being discouraged from traveling down to the Gulf Coast due to lack of resources to support such a help effort, remember that you still have a wallet and a voice. There are a myriad of ways to help out including donating a small amount of money to one of the help effort foundations or by contacting a local authority to express your opinion. In fact, in lieu of the recent events minor league baseball team the Brevard County Manatees have officially changed the name of "batting practice" or "BP" to "hitting rehearsal". Showing their deep concern for the disaster and for the wellbeing of the environment, they are sending a message to authorities and to BP that they are deeply worried about the pollution in the waters and the potential impact on the Gulf Coast. So as you sit at your desk today, think of how you can help this cleanup effort, even if it is as simple as eliminating the letters B-P out of your daily life.