Last Saturday, an underwater pipeline owned by Shell leaked over 58,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill ocurred a mere 30 miles from the coast of Louisiana. By Monday, the spill covered 28 square miles. Today, it covers 80 square miles. The spill comes at an awkward time for drilling advocates as the debate in the Senate rages over whether to open more of the Gulf to drilling. The current energy bill which has been reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee opens up all of the eastern Gulf to drilling up to 45 miles from Florida's coast in most places and 25 miles in some. Many of these advocates repeatedly point to the rigs in the Gulf as symbols of clean and safe modern oil technology. As this spill shows with devastating clarity, oil production involves much more than oil rigs. All the associated infrastructure necessary to transfer, store, and refine that crude oil into a useful product are just as vulnerable to leaks and spills as an oil rig. So as long as we have archaic pipelines criscrossing the bottom of the Gulf transporting thousands of gallons of oil every day, newer and safer rig technology won't make a difference. Oil drilling is still a dirty business.
The image below, provided by SkyTruth, pinpoints the location of the spill as well as outlining in red the network of subsurface pipelines.