Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reflections on an Oil Spill

Since April 20th, when the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded, roughly 4.9 million barrels of petroleum have flooded the Gulf of Mexico. It's the largest oil spill on record with only .8 million barrels recovered. This disaster has gotten lots of media attention, but I'd like to zero in further on the path of recover over the past few months.

First and foremost, I would like to recognize that BP (a company notorious for lax safety standards) deserves no acclaim. I can and will not condone anything that led up to the spill. However, the BP engineers and the companies that cooperated with them must be congratulated. The tireless effort they demonstrated during a relentless media bashing has to be commended. The technology needed to plug the well was nothing short of miraculous. The feat of probing the faulty Macondo well alone (which is a mere 10" in diameter, almost 4 miles below the surface of the Gulf and then another 15,000ft beneath the Gulf's floor) is astonishing. On top of that, the pumping of mud followed by cement to permanently seal the damaged well, all underwater, is amazing. A round of applause please.

Let's now examine Obama's grade concerning the crisis. The Republicans who tried to label this disaster Obama's "Katrina" were unjust. It was a game of dirty politics. But his actions did leave a lot to be desired. He was slow to acknowledge that a possible catastrophe was in the making. Why was he so hesitant to suspend the Jones Act, an action that would have allowed international help in the Gulf waters? Offers of aid from 17 nations went ignored. His "wanting to know whose ass to kick" and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's wish of "keeping a boot on the neck of BP" showed poor judgment and lack of leadership.

The way legal matters were handled was murky, no pun intended, at best. The administration continues to challenge 6 month drilling moratoriums to restrict offshore drilling. Upon losing an appeal, Ken Salazar stated he would announce a new order to thwart drilling, ignoring the court's decision. To blatantly defy a courts finding is a dangerous, power-hungry government at work. The real losers here would be the Gulf Coast residents. A recent study found that "the 6 month drilling moratorium will cost the Gulf region $2.1 billion in economic output, almost 8,200 jobs, half a billion in wage income and almost $100 million in tax revenues."

The question of where all the oil went is left unaddressed. Mother nature, responsible for more than half the cleanup, always provides a speedier rehabilitation than most want to admit. Record high temperatures in the Gulf combined with bacteria-infested waters appears to be just what the doctor ordered. The microbes seem to have a healthy appetite for the crude. Good portions of the leaked oil simply evaporated naturally. Some oil was skimmed. More was dispersed. The good news is that fisherman are going back to work and the waters are testing fine. A date of August 16th was set for the fall shrimp season to begin in Louisiana. All Mississippi waters are open for recreational and commercial fin and shrimp fishing as of August 6th (to be fair, crabbing and oyster fishing remain closed). Florida panhandle regions are opening up which begs the question, why the $20 billion compensation fund? Now before the hate mail pours in, I am all for the workers of the Gulf to be compensated. But with fisherman heading back to the seas, is the fund premature? How is it determined that a certain shrimper deserves more than an oyster man? Are larger commercial fleets offered more for recent start ups? With real estate agents already lining up at BP offices for claims, it sounds like a recipe ripe for fraud. Government manipulation of a private company to reward claimants with out due process is illegal. Let's put all those affected by the disaster on full unemployment with health care benefits until each case can be reviewed and ruled upon.

To the administration's defense, this was THE worst oil spill in history. But US relations with Britain, our strongest ally, remain strained. And lost in the media flood is the fact that eleven men perished that fateful day. This whole ordeal poses the alternative of alternative energies (in which I'm a strong believer) but we can't dismiss the stark reality that oil, gas and coal will be the primary sources of energy for decades to come. Hopefully lessons will be learned and strict safety guidelines put into place to help make a disaster of this magnitude almost impossible in the future.

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