Oil Spill Out of Control in Gulf of Mexico
A blistering attack on the oil industry for the over-confidence that led them to have no emergency plans in place to deal with the disastrous out of control oil spill and a spirited call for President Obama “to stop believing these bumbling masters of industry and do what we know we need to do – decrease our dependence on fossil fuel”. Cameron Scott makes the call and even The Australian says “the nature of the disaster demonstrates that deeper sea drilling requires more stringent safety and disaster recovery standards”.
The Thin Green Line: Cameron Scott brings you dispatches from the environmental battlefield, in association with the San Francisco Chronicle.
Occupational hazard of being a green blogger: Last night, after listening to a lot of analysis yesterday about whether Obama was taking the oil spill seriously, I was tossing and turning while writing a letter to him in my head. I’m including it below, and I’ve also put it up as a petition on Care2 http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/ask-president-obama-to-ban-offshore-drilling – if you want to sign on.
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to ask you to make sure that another devastating offshore oil spill never happens again. You can do it. All you have to do is tighten the permitting process for offshore drilling and permanently ban any expansion of it.
It’s rare that a president gets such a golden opportunity to change the course of history. The scale of the spill invites you to make strong policy decisions. That opportunity is the one good thing about it — please don’t let it go to waste. What better argument for green energy and energy efficiency is there? People who might not ordinarily see the need — say, Louisiana shrimpers — are primed to make a change.
I know you’ve said we need the oil. Supporters of drilling threaten high prices at the pump if we don’t increase domestic production. But economists say offshore drilling is likely to have no effect on gas prices. And the effect it has on the environment is anything but negligible, as NASA’s photos of the spill from space make clear. Add in the cost in dollars of the spill and the lives lost and oil doesn’t look like such a great deal anymore.
Offshore drilling, according to the most aggressive estimates put out by the industry, could produce 10 percent of what the country uses after a 20-year ramp-up period. Why don’t we use that time to reduce demand by 10 percent or more? The United States is an energy hog. There are so many easy ways for us to reduce our use. And climate change demands that we do so. Be a leader, and show Americans how to make these small sacrifices. Be a good executive and create the combination of carrots and sticks that will make them do it.
Backing offshore drilling is inconsistent with the leadership we need you to show on climate change. Only an opportunistic politician — not a leader — talks from both sides of his mouth. Only an opportunistic politician puts his head in the sand about an impending disaster, hoping that his successor will be left holding the bag. Americans want leadership; that’s why we elected you.
You may agree with those who say that something like this will never happen again. But those same people never thought it would happen this time. And it was their blasé over-confidence that led them to have no emergency plans in place. It’s time to stop believing these bumbling masters of industry and do what we know we need to do: decrease our dependence on fossil fuel.
Editorial in The Australian (31 May 2010):
SO freely is the word “catastrophe” bandied around in environmental debate that its impact has been blunted. It is the only appropriate term, however, to describe the 70 to 110 million litres of oil that have poured into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, when an explosion tore through the Deepwater Horizon rig 80km off shore. Eleven workers were killed.
Now that BP has abandoned its failed “top kill” operation to plug the rupture, pressure is increasing on Barack Obama to do more than wring his hands as he laments that the disaster is “as enraging as it is heartbreaking”. The US President has visited the disaster scene twice, but might come to regret spending the Memorial Day weekend relaxing in Chicago as the crisis unfolded. Already he has admitted he should have pushed BP sooner to disclose the full extent of the spill and that he was wrong to expect that oil companies were better prepared for such worst-case scenarios.
Much remains to be discovered about why the disaster occurred. Investigations by the Wall Street Journal have uncovered a breakdown in the chain of command aboard the rig as flames spread rapidly and terrified workers leapt into the dark, oil-coated sea. Reportedly, personnel on the bridge were in disarray. Friction and a delay in issuing a distress signal to the outside world suggest they were ill-prepared for an emergency evacuation.
Mr Obama has put Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, in charge of scientists working with BP officials and has stepped up clean up efforts. But with 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day, a more effective strategy is needed. The only sure solution is to build a relief well more than 4km under the sea floor, an operation that would take months. So far, Mr Obama has stopped short of hiring another oil company with experience in deepwater drilling to take over operations.
The commission of inquiry established to investigate the disaster will have important lessons for all energy-producing nations, including Australia, where major new offshore liquefied natural gas projects are under way.
No technology is absolutely fool-proof, but the nature of the disaster demonstrates that deeper sea drilling requires more stringent safety and disaster recovery standards than those currently in place.