Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Hard To Walk On Water When It's Covered In Oil

I was too kind.

Too optimistic.

Too benevolent.

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 ...


The Florida Blogger said...

PF-What kills me about this is that Obama has recently allowed more oil wells to be drilled in the Gulf. And I'm with you, accidents happen, but where was the backup plan? Hello. You make billions-yes, that's with a B-a year and you don't have a backup plan? Really?

SophieMae said...

As I read, all sort of 'comments' were going through my head. But by the end... I can just sit here in tears.

LaDivaCucina said...

FC, I am NOT going to take any responsibility for the oil spill or our country's addiction to oil because we, as a people, have not been offered any real alternatives. I cannot afford a Prius car and when we first moved back to the States, looked at hybrid Ford Escape. With my big husband in it, it lacked oomph and power we required to haul gear (and him!) and was very expensive to boot. Not practical. Until the people are offered some realistic alternative/choices to oil, what are we to do?

I do my small part by riding my bike around the beach to run errands, pick up groceries, post office. I don't even drive my car on the weekends. I walk to many places. I take the local bus. I'm not having a bar of this!

And on a lighter note...!

If you get a chance to pic-a-nic this weekend, it's the last one before the deadline. Thanks for a thoughtful post. My blood just boils.

edifice rex said...

I feel some responsibility because we, society as a whole, have not DEMANDED a suitable alternative and industry won't get off their butts to provide one unless we demand and hit them where it hurts.
The whole thing sickens me to the point of being speechless and you KNOW that's something!

Deb said...

Maybe Barbara Ehrenreich was right: positive thinking is ruining our society. Especially when it comes to deep water oil drilling. "Worst case scenario? Forget it, it will never happen, and even if it happens we'll find a way to deal with it! Don't worry, be happy!"

As for response, I do not believe any human being on this earth was ready and equipped with the knowledge to handle something like this. Something we should have considered before going for the mother lode. It's the precautionary principle.

As folk singer Tom Paxton says, "It's a lesson too late for the learnin'". And as Bob Dylan says, "It's a hard rain gonna fall". And as REM says, well, on second thought I don't even want to go there.

Cathy S. said...

It makes me sick to my stomach. What a mess our children are inheriting. The children of our native borns will nothave such a life as their parents and grandparents had. So very, very sad. Please feel free to rant away.

Floridagirl said...

What a beautiful video of fiddler crabs on the beach! I remember running across such scenes a few times growing up. Great memories indeed.

Dani said...

This hurts so bad.

Suze said...

This causes me such pain as I sit and just watch it continue - and the ineptness of all in "charge" is unbelievable. I've read that the Dutch, who live at or below sea level and deal with a much rougher sea (The North Sea), offered to help us with equipment and to build berms on day 3 of this catastrophe - and Obama said no. 17 other countries have offered help, but only Mexico and Norway were accepted. Other countries had the expertise we lacked, but we didn't take their help. Evidently, there are special ships that suck up water and oil and excrete only water - that would be some help. My brain can't even wrap around this - and the thought of the deep sea creatures, the coastal creatures, the birds, the fish, the dolphins - it just makes me cry and I want to do SOMETHING.

Suze said...

Here is a video shot from a small plane flying over Louisiana coastland - it's awful.

Anonymous said...

FC, this is the Gulf I grew up in, crabbed in...beaches I walked and now are gone. if they clean it up in my lifetime, it will be a miracle.
I'm sorry, man made mechanical things break. I learned that working with equipment int he medical field. When I had the sickest patients or needed to repeat something, things break. You always need a back up plan. They had nothing and had tried nothing. Obama is a fool to turn down help. That is ego.
Thanks for your thoughts. Heartbroken in LA (lower Al.) tammy

Ericka said...

i know that i'm a cynical witch, but i've been waiting for something like this. i just thought it would happen in alaska.

15 years ago(!), a vice president from bp came to speak to my engineering class. he was the most condescending, smug asshole i'd ever met. he said that bp wasn't bothering with alternatives to oil, or even with methods to minimize environmental impact, because it wasn't in their financial interests to do so. he told me i was young, ignorant and hopelessly naive to believe that people would pay even a cent more for gas to be more environmentally friendly. i haven't been to a bp since. and i've been waiting something just like this. *sigh*

i wish i was wrong.

Sandcastle Momma said...

We've spent EVERY day in the water for the last 3 weeks. Literally it feels like every day will be our last. I've taken the kids snorkling so much lately we all look like prunes but there's so much I want to show them before it's too late.

We've seen a few small tar balls along Okaloosa Island but so far nothing major yet. Pensacola and Navarre are another story. Ankle deep thick oil all along the tide line in front of the Flora-Bama and oil sheen inside Pensacola Pass in front of Ft Pickens fishing pier.

Heart breaking.

Dani said...

Us too ScMomma. Every free minute is spent at the beach. Trying to soak in all the beauty before it's gone.

robin andrea said...

I feel the way you do, FC, and I've never even dipped a toe in that beautiful gulf. Both the industry and the government let this one get away, and it's a nightmare that is going to haunt all of us for a long time. I have read that the gulf disaster will be considered Obama's Katrina, but it may also be the oil industry's Chernobyl. If only one good thing comes of this, it will be our collective decision to look for alternative energy.

roger said...

a good summation of a terrible situation.

Floridacracker said...

I agree.

Pretty heart wrenching.

La Diva,
Don't backhand me now, but did you ride your bike to Australia? We all depend on an oil economy at this point in history.
I'm hoping the BP spill speeds up the changeover.

That IS something! LOL!

We seem to make these mistakes over and over again. Reactive vs Proactive.

Cathy S,
The timeline here is what is so very depressing. So long for recovery.

The abundance of life in a healthy marsh is mind boggling, which is what makes this spill so crushingly sad.

Dani and Sandcastle Momma,
Keep doing that!!! They must remember.

Thanks for the insight and the video clip. I agree, we all want to do something and it's hard to feel like you are making a difference.

Well said and I feel the same way. Heartbroken.
... and really, really ANGRY.

That seems to fit their corporate model.
I'm through with BP gasoline too.

Well said. I feel much the same way now.
The only good from this may be better regs, more oversight, and a push to move faster to alternatives.
What a cost though.

Floridacracker said...

thanks. i may try and get the kayak out there tomorrow or next week to record the way we are now.

LaDivaCucina said...

No worries, FC, I won't backhand ya! I'm just as frustrated and feeling as helpless as everyone else. GRRRRRR!!!! Good luck with the kayaking expedition!

My word verification is: defect! Back to Oz?!

Ava said...


Lynn said...

I feel the need to write but don't know what to say. As a Florida Native I remember going to the white sandy beaches of Ft Meyers and going out to Haulover Beach and Hallandale Beach and playing in the sand. Now that I live in the Orlando area and my beaches are New Smyrna, I was saddened by how the beaches shrunk after the hurricanes of 2004. Who knew that was nothing compared to now. I don't trust any of them. We are told one thing and then later told *Oh sorry, but it's twice as bad as we said.* How do we believe them now? And even if they stopped it RIGHT NOW, how much damage has been done to the marshes and wet lands? And how much more damage will be done since it seems unstoppable? One solution is nuke it. Well what abt the fallout? What will THAT do to the states bordering the gulf?? I swear the only time things will be ramped up is when this oil goes up the coast of the US and ends up on Coopers Beach in Southampton, NY. When some extremely rich person has tar on their perfectly manicured toes will be when something is done.

threecollie said...

I feel so terrible for your family and Dani's And SCMomma's and all the people and creatures of the Gulf. I have come to love your place vicariously by reading your blogs and getting to know your families and your lives. I feel sick every day over this. I linked to this post because I think you said a lot that needs to be said.

lisa said...

I would like to know if they are going to other oil rigs and makeing sure that this kind of disaster doesn't happen again!

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

KLS said...

"FC, I am NOT going to take any responsibility for the oil spill or our country's addiction to oil because we, as a people, have not been offered any real alternatives."

I am sorry, but that is just pathetic.

Great post, cracker.

LaDivaCucina said...

What's pathetic, KLS, is a person that hides behind an anonymous profile and says nasty things about others.

Floridacracker said...

I'm glad you liked the post. However, it's an unspoken rule here, (unspoken until now) that in the PF comments, we all agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Debate is welcome, but not shots at another commenter.
That's the way it is here.

I think that feeling of helplessness is creating a very high level of frustration.

I know. How long will it be WOW?

Well said and I can relate directly to much of it. Growing up here makes you realize just what is being lost. So sad.

Three Collie,
I cherish that connection too. Maybe it was easier to deal with things far away when we weren't all so connected.

I like to think that they are scrambling to just that in addition to the clean up.

It truly is heart breaking. Glad you liked the post.