The title of this post harkens back to a previous example of stellar corporate governance. Today the CEO of BP made the statement that "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume". While that is literally true, as a physicist I have to ask, is that the right metric? I mean, are we worried about the total fraction of Gulf of Mexico that is oil? No, because everyone knows that the relevant point of comparison is not the total volume of water, but the point at which the oil content is having catastrophic effects on the environment. We can gain some perspective by comparing with other oil spills. According to experts who have viewed the (long delayed by BP) video of the leak, the flow rate of oil is somewhere around 70000 barrels a day, or about 1 Exxon Valdez disaster (I think everyone sane agrees that it was a real mess) every four days. This has been going on for three weeks. Arguing that "the ocean is really big so this isn't that much of a problem" is just wrong.
update: It's increasingly clear that BP is far more worried about their liability than about actually fixing the problem. Check out this quote from the NY Times:
BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.
“The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”
Right, because good engineering solutions have nothing at all to do with accurately understanding the problem you're trying to solve. Idiots.