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Oil spill or oil leak?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Johnny Dangerously, Jul 30, 2010.

  1. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    A friend who is a copy editor has strong opinions about word choice. This is one. What do you say?
  2. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    It's a leak. It was never in a container to be spilled.
  3. novelist_wannabe

    novelist_wannabe Well-Known Member

    Using the term leak will be damned in these parts -- in no small part because its use in this context seems to have originated by Limbaugh or on his show and in part because it sounds somehow less damning than spill -- but it seems to be the more accurate of the two terms.

    It's debatable whether it was in a container. You could say the oil was contained in the underground reservoirs

    To me, it's more like lava emitted from a volcano. Oil eruption? Of course, then the man-caused, not-man-caused arguments come into play.

    Oil escape? Release? (Parole? :D)

    I think spill, while technically inferior in accuracy, carries the man-caused connotation and is probably the best use.
  4. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    It's a leak. Calling it spill implies an event with a specific termination point, as in water spilling from a glass ... eventually, the water will run out. Same with the oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez when it ran aground on the Alaska coast.

    While the Deepwater Horizon oil deposit will run out eventually, it showed no determinable sign of abatement until the spout was capped (such as it is). The oil leaked into the water because of a ruptured well, not a broken vessel.

    I think the word we're really looking for is "disaster." The judges will also accept "fuckin' disaster."
  5. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    Wrong on all counts, as you let your politics get in the way of the question at hand.


    RHack makes good point, that "disaster" could be a good choce as well.
  6. novelist_wannabe

    novelist_wannabe Well-Known Member

    No, if I'd let my politics get in the way, I'd have just stayed with "leak".

    I'd go along with this -- I've used it this way in print because I wanted to avoid the whole leak/spill argument.

    Another thought on the semantics of this ... If oil comes out of the engine in your car, it's referred to as a leak. So the man-made container thing isn't an absolute determining factor here, and neither is the finite/infinite point of termination thing.
  7. JackS

    JackS Member

    To me, a spill implies something fell downward. A leak could go in any direction.

    That would eliminate spill from this debate.
  8. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    The container qualification isn't universally applicable, but it's closer to applicable than not. The reason your engine is leaking oil (rather than spilling it) is because it's it's a slow, ongoing thing ... a drip. A "spill" implies relatively short duration and eventual termination. A "leak" can seem to go on indefinitely. You know the difference.

    As far as using the word "disaster," I was being halfway sarcastic. Yes, it's a disaster, but it's not entirely neutral language. Many people will see it as a loaded term ("What are ya ... anti-oil? You're an environmentalist wacko!") and read politics into it. Avoid it if you can.

    The preferred term now, as of this writing, is "fossil fuel clusterfuck."
  9. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    I'm a liberal (gasp!), and I vote for leak.
  10. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    I disagree that a spill has to go down. You can spill something out of a container by rocking it (or tripping while carrying it - even if you don't drop it, the sloshing motion can make something spill over the edge). A leak, to me, implies a slow but steady escape instead of a sudden, unexpected release of a large amount.

    What's going on now could be a leak, but I'd think the initial event would be closer to a spill. Maybe just the oil pipe explosion? It's really the same problem as when a gas main blows except that there was no way to cut off the source.
  11. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    Agreed. There was an initial spill when the rig collapsed, but the real damage to the gulf region came from the leak.
  12. JackS

    JackS Member

    And when it spills over the edge, where does it go?

    Not up.
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