When I first wrote about this oil spill, I made the point that we all share in responsibility for this oil spill since we are the driving force in the quest for oil.
That is still true.
Where I went wrong in that post was when I skimmed over BP and the Obama administration's responsibilities in this disaster.
You can chalk that up to nice guy optimism that bordered on naive ignorance.... and a pretty strong (and historically correct) belief in our deep sea technological capabilities.
Let's talk about BP first.
Prior to this oil spill, if you had asked me to name a green "oil" company, I'm sure I would have named BP without a moment's hesitation.
Their slick "BP ... Beyond Petroleum" advertisements focused on diversifying our energy sources and making the transition to wind, solar, and other alternatives.
Heck, they had a green logo for crying out loud ... and they had it way before the color green was "green".
BP's "green" has faded to the same dull brown sheen that coats the Gulf.
If you look at the past few decades, oil spills of note have been minor and quickly cleaned up ... considering the thousands of oil wells beneath the world ocean. We've come a long way from the 60's and 70's when tankers seemed to break up on a regular basis and pictures of oil covered birds on the news were pretty common.
From Santa Barbara to the Exxon Valdez, each new oil disaster back then brought new and better regulation ... better blow out prevention, better clean-up technology, double-hulled tankers, etc.
These new protective measures were always reactive though, just like the new ones that will arise from this diaster.
The difference is THIS disaster makes those pale in comparison.
As an ocean science educator, I've kept up with deep sea technology and we do some amazing things ... incredible things at extreme depth. I confess I had begun to believe we could seek deepwater oil and thus avoid shallow water coastal drilling where an oil spill would be more disastrous.
I never considered the possibility of an unstoppable oil geyser on the seafloor spewing oil for months at a time. The history of oil spills did not support that scenario.
I knew oil spills and rig blow outs can happen, but, ... and here is where I was really ignorant ... I never dreamed that major oil companies and the United States government would be so completely unprepared for dealing with a major spill.
What I am not going to do in this post is repeat all the details of BP's inadequacies, unpreparedness, lies, slow response time, and general callous attitude toward the Gulf, the wildlife, and the people of the Gulf Coast. I am not a reblogger ... go watch the news.
It's out there for everyone to see 24/7 (although you might not see everything... BP blocking photos)
The evidence is piling up in sticky mounds like tarballs on Santa Rosa Island and the evidence points to a company that was totally unprepared for the disaster they have caused.
Preparation for a castastrophic blow-out is not demonstrated by:
- Purposefully understating the amount of flow from the pipe. It's understandable that in the first few days, this might be inaccurate, but the low estimate was out there long after it was challenged by respected scientific organizations.
- Rushing to build a containment structure at local Gulf Coast shipyards AFTER THE FACT. In the entire Gulf, with all those oil wells, there was nothing like this prepositioned and ready? This is a huge US government failure also.
- Bringing in minimal assets ... this is what, day 50 something? NOW they are bringing in assets from other parts of the globe.
- Spraying dispersants with secret proprietary ingredients all over the Gulf. Vast amounts of additional chemicals, toxic chemicals , whose purpose is to break up the surface oil and hide the slick in the water column.
- Restricting access to reporters. Spinning the story and spending millions on BP PR while handing out $5000 to fishermen who may just lose their boats and their way of life due to the oil.
- Asking the public for advice on how to stop the flow ... Huh? If it was a PR move to involve us and make us feel part of the team, well ... it backfired. It only served to make BP look like a company that was in over it's corporate head without a clue as to what to try next.
Those are just a few highlights of BP's failures, again, the details are on the news 24/7.
As for the Obama administration ...
This will be their big test and so far, I give them a D.
- Slow to react. It's the worst environmental disaster in the history of the USA ... ACT LIKE IT! We're 50 days in for God's sake. Feel some pain to paraphrase another president.
- Initial responses were low intensity and only seem to have ramped up when polls show the public's disappointment with the response effort.
- Less talk of prosecution and more ACTION on execution ... of the cleanup plan. We can pursue prosecution of BP after we stop the flow and clean the slicks.
- ASSETS! You are the United States Government! Quit relying on BP for guidance and materials. BP wants to spray toxic chemical dispersants in quantities never before used and the administration allows it UNTIL scientists in and out of the government challenge the safety of those substances.
- Reactive just like BP. No evidence of proactive, "What If ..." contingency plans. The US government prepositions food,water, and other emergency supplies at distribution centers across the country for use during weather or terrorist disasters. Why was there no central WELL STOCKED prepositioned oil spill emergency materials at some location in the Gulf? If there was one, why did BP have to engineer and build it's failed containment structures locally after the fact?
- Regulating agencies are too cumbersome and some, are too cozy with the very industry they are regulating. Yes, it's probably been that way for decades, but this is now and it's your watch, Mr. President.
Every president has events that define their time in office and this will certainly be Mr. Obama's. So far it doesn't look good, but this story is far from over ... very far from over. The effects stretch out there so far into the future ... it's hard not to be discouraged.
The BP oil spill is an almost physical pain down here.
You don't have to live near the Gulf to love it and the rich natural heritage it contains, I know that. This disaster affects all of us.
But, here at PFHQ, We raised our babies in that clear salty water. They grew up swimming, diving, fishing, beach combing, boating, island hopping, and living, truly living in "our" Gulf.
Now the ominous black smear on the Gulf's blue waters hovers offshore, shifting shape and location each day, always threatening ...
Here on the eastern shore of the Gulf, we hold our breath and hope the winds and currents might deliver us from evil, and then we feel the sting of guilt, for the wind that might save us will devastate someone else's shore.
For now the innocents go about their timeless cycles of life, unaware of impending disaster, in the rich and truly pristine coastal marshes of the big bend region. It's crushing to realize how much is at stake and that we may be witnessing the last time things were "normal" here ... before the oil.
Things like this ...