A brewing tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico is tempering optimism that the BP oil spill will be permanently plugged anytime soon. But that's just par for the course, says Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post. "An enduring feature of the Gulf oil spill is that, even when you think you've heard the worst-case scenario, there's always another that's even more dire" — and, from the serious to the slightly unhinged, the scenarios that doomsday-minded commentators have suggested are dire indeed. Here are five "predictions of Armageddon" that, if fulfillied, would make the already awful consequences of the spill look like a minor inconvenience.
1. "World-killing" methane explosion
The theory: While drilling the Macondo well, BP tapped a giant methane bubble trapped under the seabed. This sub-sea pocket of explosive gas — many miles in diameter — is similar to the one that exploded in the Gulf roughly 250 million years ago, wiping out more than 96 percent of all life in a series of tidal waves, toxic chemical releases, and fiery cloudbursts.
Who's behind the theory? Proponents cite research by Northwestern University biochemical engineer Gregory Ryskin. (Ryskin says his work is being misrepresented.)
Key quote: "The bottom line: BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years." (Terrence Aym, Helium)
2. The oil gushes for decades, threatening all the planet's oceans
The theory: The underground casing of the BP well has been so irreversibly damaged that the wellhead cap is only forcing oil out through leaks deep below the sea floor. As the casing further deteriorates and the oil eats away at the seabed, a literally unstoppable leak that will spew 150,000 barrels a day into the Gulf for decades on end — with "truly unimaginable" consequences for the earth's oceans.
Who's behind the theory? Most prominently, a widely cited and "seemingly very knowledgable" commenter, Doug R, at The Oil Drum, an online community frequented by petroleum geologists and other industry experts.
Key quote: If this theory's right, "the already weakened sea bottom beyond the wellbore... would crack wide open like ice on a pond... turning a wide area of the outer continental shelf sea floor into an underwater sinkhole that could bleed 2 billion to 3 billion barrels of oil." (David Phillips, CBS BNET)
3. Poisonous chemical rain kills everyone/everything in a wide radius
The theory: In the event of a hurricane, Corexit 9500 — the oil dispersant BP is using in large quantities — and methane gas could combine to form toxic rain clouds with the potential to kill all plant and animal life, including humans, for hundreds of miles around, says Kurt Nimmo in Alex Jones' Infowars.
Who's behind the theory? Former "pipeline chaplain" Lindsay Williams, "investigative journalist" Wayne Madson, and followers of conspiracy radio host Alex Jones.
Key quote: Under government contingency plans, "30-40 million people would need to be evacuated....If people living within the 200-mile zone do not relocate voluntarily (i.e. on their own initiative), it appears likely that a forced evacuation through a martial-law scenario may occur within the coming weeks and (possibly) months." (SoCal Martial Law Alerts, Infowars)
4. It's literally a sign of the Apocalypse
The theory: The BP gusher is fulfilling the Book of Revelation's end-times prophesies, a scenario in which BP is the diabolic "agent of the end of the world." The signs include blood-red oil spreading throughout the Gulf and the widespread destruction of sea life.
Who's behind the theory? Eschatalogists (end-times scholars), including Pastor Phil Hotsenpillar, a teaching pastor at Yorba Linda Friends Church in Southern California, with support from members of America's 20-million-strong evangelical Christian community who believe the world will end in their lifetimes.
Key quote: "The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed... A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” (Revelations, 8:8-11, via Newsweek)
5. BP causes the earth to implode by secretly tapping its molten core
The theory: Under the guise of digging four-mile-deep relief wells, BP is secretly boring much deeper — 1,800 miles — to harvest magma from the earth's molten core for cheap geothermal energy. Unfortunately, that would lead to the collapse of the planet.
Who's behind the theory? A rather mysterious group of "international energy experts"
Key quote: "BP would get all the profits while tapping this amazing source of energy, which would bring them trillions until it ran dry, causing the earth to implode on itself like a raisin. Which would mean the only buck left to be made on this orb would be selling tickets to the surviving yahoos who want to jump on the last rocketship off it." (Energy industry "insider" quoted by Dan Lee Hope, Jr., Ask Doc Paranormal)