Monday, June 7, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

Congratulations President Obama, the United States’ Gulf Coast is getting destroyed on your watch. 

The Gulf oil spill began on April 20th when the Deepwater Horizon moveable oil rig caught fire killing 11 roughnecks.  Since then 5,000 barrels of oil a day have been gushing into the gulf. Grand Isle, Louisiana, the barrier island with a population of less than 2,000 which is always the first place to be evacuated any time there’s a hurricane, has been hard hit by the oil slick as have coastal wetlands in places such as Pass a Loutre.  Tar balls have washed ashore on Petit Bois Island, Mississippi; Gulf Shores, Alabama and even as far as Pensacola, Florida.  This is fast becoming the worst oil spill in our country’s history, and even if the leak were stopped today the environmental and economic impact will likely be affecting the region for decades to come.  When will we feel safe to eat Louisiana oysters again?  Will we feel safe to swim in places like Pass Christian, MS or to dive in places like Key Largo?

Containing oil on a scale like this and attempting to plug a leak 5,000 feet below the surface is unprecedented, and experts have come up with a list of innovative strategies which are being tried one-by-one in an attempt to stop the leak.  Meanwhile BP is drilling relief wells but they aren’t scheduled to be completed until August!  It’s a very slow process.

It’s hard not to shake the feeling that this is all proceeding with a lot more deliberation than urgency.  While the Obama administration may have been active behind the scenes from the get go, many feel as though the president underestimated the disaster and didn’t make it a priority until recently. Democratic strategist James Carville, who is a native Louisianian, has been especially vocal in criticizing Obama’s seemingly hands-off attitude and his entrusting the cleanup, containment and plugging efforts in large part to BP.  Obama is famous for his ability to keep calm under pressure and it is perhaps one of his greatest assets, but sometimes a situation calls for urgency and even rage.  It’s easy to draw parallels to Bush’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s also hard to shake the impression that it is BP and not the government that is running the show down there.  BP is the company responsible for this disaster, why are they being given such wide berth in deciding how its dealt with?  I kind of think this is because no one really knows what to do and the government would rather point fingers at BP down the road than shoulder responsibility itself.  To me this seems even worse than the financial crisis, where the government turned to the “experts” responsible for the meltdown to determine how to dig ourselves out of it.

And to think, before this happened Obama was in favor of expanding drilling off America’s coasts!  This to me is despicable.  Everyone knows that you can open up all the new wells you want and it won’t end our reliance on oil imported from overseas.  Even the effect on domestic gas prices is debatable and at any rate it wouldn’t be felt for years.  But still, Obama was willing to sign off on this in order to throw a bone to the “drill, baby, drill” crowd and so he could talk big about “ending our addiction to foreign oil.”  The true result would be more profits for the oil companies and more states relying on the oil industry for jobs and revenue.  Is this worth the environmental impact?         

I think we can thank George W Bush, Dick Cheney and all the legislators (Republicans and Democrats) who are in the oil companies’ pockets for this catastrophe.  Their “we trust you” approach to regulation and “we’ll look the other way” attitude towards oversight helped make this clusterfuck possible.  One of the most egregious episodes is when oil companies were excused from paying royalties because of losses sustained after Hurricane Katrina.  As if the oil sector were ever really in danger of becoming unprofitable. 

 BP is going to end up paying billions of dollars for this, but by then the damage will be done.  Money can only do so much to clean contaminated wetlands or poisoned oyster beds, or to heal the region’s fishing and tourism industry.  Still, I’m counting on a slow boil of public outrage which won’t peak until after the leak has stopped and the investigations into the oil spill’s causes and BP’s negligence begin in earnest.  I’m hoping for hefty penalties, tougher regulation, and most of all I’m hoping that this will put to rest the debate on whether we should expand drilling.

Oh and a special “WTF?!” to Sarah Palin who actually suggested environmentalists were responsible for the oil leak because if it wasn’t for them we’d be drilling in Alaskan wildlife reserves INSTEAD OF in the Gulf of Mexico.

Images: May 17th satellite image of oil spill (NASA Goddard/Rob Gutro); AP photo taken at Passe a Lotre, Louisiana on May 22 found at Tampa Bay Online.