Easy Sustainability Answers

Should we call the BP oil spill a "spill"? Or something else?

Adriene Hill Jul 2, 2010

Easy Answer: Yes, it’s a spill. But that hasn’t kept people from trying to rename it.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe it’s the fact that oil rises instead of sinks (at least until you Corexit it). But, for whatever reason, I have a hard time thinking of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as a “spill.”

Spill sounds like a little milk on the floor.

But–the BP oil spill is also a spill. Just a much bigger one.

I asked Professor Ira Leifer from the Marine Sciences Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara our question:


Should we call the BP oil spill a “spill”? Or something else?


His response: “I think it is still a spill, it’s just that underwater, because of buoyancy (rather than gravity, it falls up). I would call it an ongoing spill, rather than a spill.”

Ongoing spill. I like that better.

Other people have come up with even more creative and perhaps descriptive names for the spill. Gusher. Oilpocalypse.

The public radio show “The Takeaway” had a really interesting conversation recently with Ben Zimmer who writes the On Language column for The New York Times. You can listen to it here:


Zimmer comes to the same conclusion Ira did–that maybe spill is an OK way to call what’s going on.

But what do you think? Do you have a better name? Comment below or twitter to #easyanswers

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.