Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deep Horizon, BP and The Gulf: The Oil Industry's Three Mile Island

It's been forty days now.

That's how long it's taken BP (British Petroleum) to try
to cap the runaway oil spill at its Deepwater Horizon site
in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded
and sank on April 16, the responses of BP to try to
contain the spill have ranged from the ludicrous to
the bizarre, reinforcing liberal belief in oil industry
venality and incompetence.

In point of fact, however, when it comes to
"incompetence" in dealing with the situation, the response
of BP is nothing compared to that of the government.
Be that as it may, there's plenty of blame for this mess
for all concerned.

To begin with, when it comes to deepwater drilling
competence, BP is not an industry leader. Rather, they
have a reputation in the Gulf and elsewhere for being
notorious cost-cutters and short-cut takers, especially
when it comes to environmental protection and safety

In fact, when current BP CEO Tony Hayward (a former
investment banker), took over last year, he said that
BP's principal problem was that it had "too many people
trying to save the world" and not enough people focused
on improving BP's depressed stock price.

Given that sort of mindset at the top, it made a disaster
like Deepwater Horizon all but inevitable. Ironically,
the very depth and complexity of the Deepwater site
actually helped mitigate the disaster - had this event
happened in shallow water, the spill could have been
many times worse.

As matters now stand, we're waiting for "Top Kill" -
the latest in a series of seriocomic "fixes" attempted
by BP to cap the leak. But, laughable as BP's attempts
to fix the problem may have been, they have managed
to be outdone in clownishness only by the government.

Under the direction of renowned geologist and energy
expert Rahm Emanuel, the government did its usual best
not to let the crisis go to waste. In a speech to a Democratic
fund-raiser, President Obama announced an immediate halt
to all further offshore oil exploration, pending "stringent
environmental reviews" expected to last at least until 2014.
According to Emanuel, this to put the problem
"past the next two election cycles."

And, then, when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wanted
to use his emergency powers to build dikes and sand berms
to protect endangered wetlands and marshes, Obama told
him no - no until a detailed "environmental review".
Results - the oil washed up on the marshes anyway,
destroying livelihoods along with an admittedly fragile
ecosystem, and the whole affair degenerated into that
favorite political sport- "the blame game" - with BP and
the Feds pointing fingers at each other with the people
of Louisiana caught in the middle, as usual.

And Congress, busy as always in selling itself out to
special interests for election funds, ran for cover and has
been nowhere to be seen during this whole debacle.
Even Obama, once the obligatory anti-oil-industry
speeches had been made, tried to distance himself
from the whole matter, only venturing down to
Louisiana Friday for a carefully scripted two-hour
"photo op", with press and public access carefully

And how will this thing likely turn out? In my
opinion, four things will happen. First, I do
think BP and the rest of the industry will get the
leak stopped. The rest of the Gulf oil industry has
contributed men, materials and money to the effort,
in a not-so-surprising effort to defend their own self
interests. Second, this will wind up doing to the US
offshore drilling industry what Three Mile Island did
for US nuclear power. Only in this case, the industry will
just pick up and move to wherever Brazil, China, India
or Russia can use their expertise for difficult drilling
projects. Thus, while the BRIC countries move toward
energy independence, the U.S. will move to ever-greater
oil dependence on such friends as Venezuela,
Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Third, while "emerging
nations" move forward with "energy independence",
the U.S. will succeed in hamstringing all its energy
projects (not just oil) with ever-greater burdens of
bureaucracy and red tape. And finally, will BP
ever be made to pay for cleaning up the mess?
Don't count on it. Liability will be litigated forever;
and ultimately, the taxpayer will foot the bill
without recompense.

And why not? The one area where the U.S. excels is
in creating ever-greater levels of government waste,
mismanagement, and bureaucracy as the preferred
solution for any problem. Does the "government"
solution for healthcare, financial reform, or chronic
unemployment give you confidence that they can solve
this one?

I didn't think so.

1 comment:

  1. Government failed to regulate the oil industry, thanks to Bush and Cheney this kind of spill was inevitable. MMS allowed oil companies to fill out inspection forms in pencil then the gov. filled it in in pen. BP and other oil companies are focused on protecting many animal species, such as the famous Gulf Walruses and Gulf Sea Otters. hahahaha. If only college students could get away with writing term papers like the oil industry writes environmental review papers, the world would be a better place. The oil industry even plagiarizes off of each other the same crappy work- how embarrassing. Surprise surprise the oil industry invests in drilling but not in safety cleanup measures.

    Boom barriers failed but the cleanup is going better, especially cleanup conducted by Coast Guard and other government and military personnel. As for compensation, a 20 billion Gulf Coast fun is a good start but a good finish is no more BP, serious restrictions and heavy regulation of a new safe oil industry, and immediate and fast trials so Exxon Valdez will not be the precedent. Convictions of the entire set of BP executives and money flowing from BP to the government, the gulf, and the people to pay for this horrendous damage. If it took a year that would be great indeed.

    Who knows, in the coming weeks will the Corporatist oil-loving Supreme Court line up behind Joe Barton and the rest of those oil party pigs denouncing the "shakedown" of BP and establishment of a "slush fund" to help the people of the Gulf? With many of the judges coming from the same cloth as George Bush, it may well take decades for BP to truly pay for this and that is a shame, a real disgrace to this country.