There has been no shortage of tragedy and heartbreak attached to what may already be the greatest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. But elements of strangeness and irony have also been part of the story. Here, nine facts in that vein about the spill:
1. BP execs were celebrating safety on the Deepwater Horizon at the exact moment it blew up.
In a curious twist, BP chose April 20 as the date for an onboard party to commemorate "Deepwater Horizon going for seven years without an accident." A number of company executives reportedly flew out to the rig to take part in the festivities. The natural gas explosion that killed 11 crew members and eventually sank the rig "blew out the wall leading to the galley, where [the] party was being held."
2. Kevin Costner is offering a Hollywood ending.
After the Exxon Valdez spill, Costner sunk $24 million of his own money into developing a machine — it resembles "a giant vacuum cleaner" — capable of quickly separating oil from water. He says his patented "Ocean Therapy" system can recover much of the crude now marring the Gulf. "It’s prepared to go out and solve problems, not talk about them," Costner says.
3. Louisiana's tradional "Shrimp and Petroleum Festival" will proceed as planned.
Morgan City, LA, is celebrating the 75th annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, even as gobs of sweet crude are threatening to wipe out the state's seafood business for a generation. "All systems are go," said Lee Delaune, the festival’s director. "We will honor the two industries as we always do. More so probably in grand style, because it's our diamond jubilee."
4. BP thinks there are walruses in the Gulf of Mexico.
In the company's "Regional Oil Spill Response Plan, Gulf of Mexico" — a document that tragically ignores the possibility of an event resembling the current spill — BP lists walruses as one of the "Sensitive Biological Resources" in the Gulf. As most average second-graders know, the blubbery mammals reside exclusively in the Arctic.
5. The Soviets would have nuked the leak.
According to the newspaper Pravda, the Soviet Union used nuclear weapons to shut down oil-well blowouts five times between 1966 and 1977. "The underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well's channel," the paper says, arguing that the U.S. should try the same approach.
6. Certain sea turtles just can't catch a break.
In 1979, endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles were airlifted from Mexico to the Gulf Coast so they wouldn't be wiped out in the huge Ixtoc blowout, the oil disaster that most closely parallels the BP spill. Now, in their transplanted nesting ground, the species could be wiped out by the Deepwater Horizon gusher.
7. BP may be charged royalties on every drop of spilled oil.
Under the law, oil spilled is the same as oil sold. So with the Deepwater Horizon gushing tens of thousands of barrels per day (by many estimates), BP — which has been notoriously "conservative" with leak-rate estimates — may already be liable for as much as $35 million in taxes on the oil released into the Gulf.
8. The disaster could thaw relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
The spill has led the two countries to engage in rare talks as the U.S. tries to avert damage to Cuba's "pristine coral reefs, miles of mangroves, and nesting areas for green sea turtles." David Guggenheim, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation in Washington, says, "We caused this mess [so] how are we going to help them deal with it?"
9. "Brownie" thinks a conspiracy is afoot.
Michael Brown, who famously did a "heckuva job" managing the federal response to Katrina, thinks that the government's relative inaction in this latest Gulf Coast disaster is best explained by a conspiracy theory: The president doesn't really want to plug the leak, says Brown, because doing so might interfere with his secret plot "to bankrupt the coal industry, and basically get rid of the oil and gas industry."