Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well, with the USGS announcement of 12-19,000 barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and beyond each day, the endless media coverage has focused more on BP circus acts to shed responsibility, and more preposterous ways to plug the pipe; relegating both the public and the government to the sidelines as viewers, rather than critical actors in this disaster. As a result we have locked ourselves into a ‘watch and wait’ mode with very little discussion, much less action, over what we are going to do about it and how to prevent it from happening again in concrete terms. The questions of what to do to stop the oil flow, clean up the mess and future prevention must be answered simultaneously in order to ameliorate the consequences of this disaster and keep it from happening again. It is easy to say ‘never again’ and demand an end to all offshore oil drilling, which is admittedly a stance I agree with, but it also absolves us of the responsibility to analyze the points of failure that made this disaster possible and ensure that they are not allowed to occur again. Congressional hearings have already shown that lax regulation and oversight were key to this disaster and is a consistent problem with all oil wells, including the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. Albert Einstein once said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” yet permits for drilling and waiving of environmental impacts continued to be granted after April 20th, and the six month moratorium on drilling will likely be over before a clear understanding of all the places where policy failed to prevent the Deepwater Horizon disaster are examined. We must also keep pushing for implementation of renewable energies that are far less detrimental to the environment and human life in the way that coal and oil are.
When I was six, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound and began leaking oil throughout that fragile ecosystem. Then, like now, there was a scramble to figure out what went wrong and how to clean up the spill, but it seems we learned too little from that experience. People at home watched as volunteer rescue workers cradled oil-soaked otters and birds and tried to clean them quickly enough so that they would survive; I even remember that I tried to convince our Mom to take us there so we could help, but we were too poor and too far from Alaska. The cause of the Valdez crash was later determined to be Exxon’s refusal to repair the ship’s radar system and a failure to follow a number of both governmental and Exxon safety policies, but this did not lead to a thorough overhaul in policy or oversight of oil companies. Twenty-one years later the surrounding communities still struggle with the legacy of the Valdez spill, having spent much of that time fighting Exxon for the restitution funds they were awarded in court and struggling to recover their lost livelihoods. Exxon has paid approximately $3.5 billion for clean-up, fines and restitution so far. Since then, there has been no legislation to forgo extensive litigation in cases like this and hold corporations accountable in paying for restitution and cleanup; to BP’s benefit. Another lesson learned from the Valdez spill, by both BP and the U.S. government, was the importance of controlling media access to the spill, since only certain journalists and photographers are allowed to enter or view the spill area right now. This blackout of journalists that for all intents and purposes are not ‘embedded’ – like journalists in Iraq or Afghanistan – with government or BP crews limits public understanding of the damage, keeping the oil spill abstract and its impact narrowly defined in our minds. Denying access to journalists means that those with the expertise and objectivity in this situation, like outside scientists or Valdez veterans, are less able to develop ideas and strategies that could stop the oil and accelerate clean-up efforts. It was clearly in BP’s interest to claim a lower flow of 5,000 barrels a day to protect themselves from larger fines and more damning public opinion and was certainly an easier claim to make when keeping journalists out, but admitting a more realistic estimate could have led to better plans to plug the leak before it became three times the size of the Exxon spill.
What are we waiting for?
For years it has been slapping us in the face that corporations are willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, willing to destroy the economy and human lives (11 on Deepwater Horizon, 31 in coalmine collapses in Kentucky and West Virginia already this year) for the sake of profit, yet we persist in trusting that they have good intentions despite all evidence to the contrary. Trust is no longer an option, because it has been violated and ignored too many times, and we must hold all parties responsible – including the government – to prevent future disasters as we navigate a way to ameliorate the environmental consequences of this one. Anger is rising, as the oil spreads and as the ideas from BP continue to be so preposterous that we are supposed to believe that ramming the pipe full of shredded rubber tires and golf balls or pumping in mud are legitimate efforts, and both have unsurprisingly failed. We need to focus on solutions to stopping the oil, how to clean the Gulf and shoreline while ensuring that this never happens again. We must focus anger into action.
The Raging Grannies, known for their anti-war protests, have been holding actions at BP stations in Florida:
There are numerous local and national groups working to help cleanup the oil and change policies. Oceana has a list of what you can do. The official Deepwater Horizon Response has up-to-date information and links for state-by-state volunteer opportunities.
Never again will a company be allowed to drill a well in deep waters without specialized and tested plans to prevent a range of catastrophic failures and ways to stop the oil flow in the event that everything possible goes wrong. Never again will a company be allowed to cause tremendous environmental damage without being held criminally and financially liable. We must utilize safer, and less environmentally destructive, forms of energy. Never again will we sit and watch satellite photos or underwater live video feeds of oil spewing into the environment, if we act.
Other Conducive Chronicle posts about the Gulf Oil Spill:
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