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Fixing a Hole

For weeks now the news has been dominated by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The ramifications for life on the Gulf Coast – and beyond – are simply staggering. We’re looking at massive amounts of fragile wetlands contaminated beyond repair. We’re looking at massive die-offs of marine species, some perhaps to the point of extinction. We’re looking at the fishing and tourism industries, already hard hit by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, tanking once again, putting thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people out of work.

And yet the consequences could be even farther reaching than we can imagine. Once the toxic crude oil gets into the water and food supply, what will the long-term effects be in the Southeastern United States? How far will the oil spill actually flow? Some say it will remain localized in the gulf, but there are models that have the oil encircling the Florida peninsula and heading north to the Carolinas and Maryland, while heading west into Mexico and even Northeast to the UK. Something tells me that the best case scenario, which seems to have not occurred at any time during this disaster, is probably the least likely to occur now.

There needs to be accountability and so far British Petroleum seems to only be accepting it on the surface. Let’s recap their role in this; on the day of the explosion, a corporate representative of BP ordered that the heavy mud holding the pressure down on the drill, be displaced with seawater in order to speed up the drilling process, which was behind schedule. This was done despite the objections of the rig’s toolpusher (effectively the operations manager of the rig) who felt it was too dangerous. This caused an eruption of mud, seawater and methane gas. When the gas ignited, the rig was bathed in a firestorm.

The safety measure, a blowout preventer was then employed but it failed. The backup that was supposed to have been on the rig had not been installed as a cost-cutting measure. The costs that ultimately got cut were the lives of the men on that rig – eleven workers on the Deepwater Horizon died in the explosion and its aftermath. Workers were unable to stop the oil from flowing from the pipe, and so when the rig capsized and sank, the oil continued to flow from the ruptured pipe.

Since then, BP has consistently shown an unwillingness to come clean (no pun intended) about the extent of the spill, their ability to cap it or mitigate it or their ability to clean up the mess. The extent of BP’s lack of integrity, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was so severe that President Obama has now ordered the attorney general to investigate the entire affair.

The longer this goes on, the worse it looks for BP. Half of the company’s value has evaporated on the market, and the cleanup costs escalate with each passing day. Certainly the company will pay fines in the billions; the lawsuits that come from this will in all likelihood total billions more. In recent days, the New York Times uncovered evidence that the Mineral Management Service – the federal agency regulating oil drilling – allowed oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports rather than conduct their own inspections, while officials of the MMS were given tickets to football games and taken on hunting trips by oil and gas companies. It’s not surprising, but during the Bush Administration the MMS was stacked with officials sympathetic to the oil industry. In the wake of these allegations, the Obama administration is quietly overhauling the MMS.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Some are criticizing the government for not reacting quickly enough, nor sending enough help to embattled officials in towns on the Gulf Coast who are gearing up for a major ecological and economic disaster. Some are looking askance at Haliburton, whose blowout preventer failed. Some say that the Coast Guard is relying far too much on BP to lead the cleanup and well capping efforts. Of course, most people are looking squarely at BP.

Much of the responsibility indeed lies with BP and much of the accountability should rest with them. What form that accountability takes remains to be seen. Certainly there will be a financial component, as I alluded to earlier. The question is, should there be a criminal component? Given some of the facts that are coming to light, that’s not out of the question. The attorney general’s task force, led in part by former Florida governor (and Senator) Bob Graham and EPA administrator William K. Reilly, will have to make that determination.

Given BP’s overstatement of the safety of their drilling operation, as well as their ability to clean up after it, I’m kind of hoping to see some of their executives receive jail sentences and not minimum security country club jail terms – I’m talking about deep-in-the-South hard time amongst murderers, thieves and rapists. They should feel right at home.

Big business needs a wake-up call that putting profits ahead of people is not acceptable and I don’t think that message is going to be received until we start seeing executives in the Big House, paying for their crimes. I agree with Rep. Pelosi that the cap on liability should be lifted on this occasion. BP needs to pay not only the cost of the clean-up but also compensate those whose livelihoods have been wiped out and should the cost of doing that cause British Petroleum to sink, well so be it. I understand that BP employees tens of thousands of people, and that these people’s livelihood would be just as effected as the shrimp fishermen in Louisiana but the difference is that the shrimp fishermen didn’t explode a ultra deep sea rig in BP headquarters.

We must also shoulder a portion of the blame for our own dependence on petroleum. It is past time to seek out safer, greener fuel sources. It is time to reduce our dependency on oil and plastic. It is going to take time for us to do this – it has taken more than a century to get to where we are – but it is something all of us are going to need to do.

What can we do now to reduce our dependence on oil? Drive less. Use public transit when possible, walk or bicycles when possible and when affordable, drive fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles. Recycle everything, from paper to plastic to glass to aluminum. Use paper instead of plastic at the grocery store. When buying things, buy them in containers that are eco-friendly, rather than plastic.

It is up to us to demand better. We can’t expect that big corporations are going to look out for the best interests of the people and this planet – they have already demonstrated without a doubt that they could care less about our future. They are only interested in one thing – profit – and until we start hitting them where they understand the pain they won’t change. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as responsible consumers to change first.

We also need to start using our voices. Write your elected official and let them know you’d like to see them vote for regulations restricting deep water drilling and demanding stricter safety precautions on the drilling that is going on. Ask them to vote for tax cuts for alternative energy use, as well as for incentives for developing the same. Support politicians who show a willingness to vote on green legislation; deny that support for politicians who would rather vote on the interests of big business. Whatever happens, don’t just sit on your ass and moan about how big the problems are and how you can do nothing about them. Get out of your comfortable rut – after all, if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem and we’ve all been part of the problem for too damn long.


One Response

  1. Process Guard Component…

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