So why are we told this was never expected — a scenario nobody could have predicted? The Miami Herald today outlines a virtually identical scenario to the BP disaster, in the Gulf of freaking Mexico, in 1979: The Ixtoc I spill.

Of course, scientists can look at marshes and estuaries during the 1990 Gulf War oil disaster that decimated the Persian Gulf, still the largest spill on record, to get a picture of what, more than a decade later, fragile ecosystems look like after a disaster of these proportions. And then there's the more recent 2009 Montara oil diasaster off Australia's coast, a leak that spread millions of gallons of oil over 2,300 miles for more than two months. But those are much different environmental and economic climates — the weather is different, the wildlife is different, and Louisiana and the Gulf coast relies on it as an already damaged hurricane protection system and for an entire way of life, financially and otherwise.

With Ixtoc I, the difference is the exact location, with coastal Louisiana just outside the crosshairs. Warm Gulf waters teeming with life, and a wellhead deep below the surface, explosion, blowout, millions of gallons of oil, coastal impact... and then there's our unwritten future: How long will it take to stop? How will it stop? How long will we need to heal? Ixtoc I ended nine months after it started — with two relief wells and a cement seal. It was 600 miles from south Texas, where a tropical storm actually helped wash the oil offshore, and booms were adequate enough to seal some of the coastal waterways. Now scientists suggest the complex wetlands systems in Louisiana are impossible to clean — Texas took a few years to restore the beaches to normal.

More than 30 years later, nobody has figured out how to prevent a blowout preventer from buckling under. The backup plan has always been to drill more.