The Oil Spill – And The Strange Impacts Thereof

What’s going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster.  Not that that’s a particularly insightful statement, but it’s true.  It’s a demostration of the very, very awful things that can go wrong in modern industry.  As much as companies will say that they plan for every imaginable contingency, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is proof that it’s impossible and unrealistic to assume that indeed we can handle anything.

What’s really shocking is that like so many other disasters, it’s been turned into some sort of perverse political football as well.  It shows a lot about conservatives/teabaggers who hate big government, but curiously have been pleading for government intervention.  Probably the funniest example of this was raving lunatic Michelle Bachmann.   Commandeer boats?  That sounds like tyranny to me. 

Then there was the world’s biggest moron, Sarah Palin, posting on her ludicrous Facebook page blaming “liberals” for offshore drilling, and trying to qualify that when she said “drill baby drill” she didn’t mean that.  Again, the media mocked her, and deservedly so.

These same people are the ones calling this “Obama’s Katrina” and demanding he do something about the hemorrhaging wellhead.  I don’t know what these people figure Obama could do.  I think the comparison to Katrina doesn’t work, either.  I got the impression – though I’ve not looked into it as much – that Dubya simply accepted the administrative incompetence of FEMA in dealing with the aftermath of that event.  In this case, the catastrophe is ongoing, but it doesn’t seem that no one is doing anything about it.  I’m sure BP’s engineers are working long hours trying to figure out how to handle the problems.

The laugh is that it all is coming down to these champions of the free market looking like complete hypocrites.  They’re basically calling for socializing the costs of the mess, when they should of course be advocating for BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, Cameron, and any other firms who might be found to have contributed to the disaster to pay up.  If they are bankrupted in the process, so be it.  Of course, they have to get around the ludicrous liability gap that was another great conservative gift to the world.  I hope that can be done easily.

It certainly seems as though BP’s got lots of resources to fire up the PR machine, and I have to say they are doing a pretty good job of messaging on the whole issue, Tony Hayward and his US subordinates have been visible, and it seems to me fairly candid.  I don’t think Hayward is a bad man, nor do I think anyone in the industry is necessarily intentionally a villain.  Accidents always happen, and it seems like BP is trying to come out looking the best they can and hopefully can do this thing right.

This morning, however, the Nova Scotian magazine that I get with my Chronicle-Herald had a small article about the Niger Delta, and the environmental disaster there.  The amount of oil spilled there annual rivals Deepwater Horizon, apparently, never mind that they flare tremendous amounts of gas, and the companies operate with relative impunity. One source suggested that the equivalent of around 40% of Africa’s total volume of natural gas consumed is flared in the Delta annually.  Never mind the needless air pollution this causes, the release of greenhouse gases, etc, that’s natural gas that could be used for proper, necessary consumption.  The trick is that AG (associated gas) is expensive to separate and put into production, it’s cheap to just burn it off and maximize crude oil production instead.

 Most people in the Delta haven’t got access to any uncontaminated water, and suffer ill health as a result of oil production, and get no real benefit of it.  The terrible story of Ken Saro Wiwa is just one example of the problem. 

That’s not the only story of the misery of oil production – virtually everywhere, it’s the same.  Huge pollution problems, suffering amongst the local population, and a curious absence of direct benefits to those who live in the area in production. 

The only real thing I can see as a solution has been the obvious one for many years – we need to start weaning ourselves off of oil.  We need to work harder to find alternatives and making better use of what we have.  The fact that we’ll have to keep going further and further offshore to find and produce more oil and risk repeats of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the best evidence of that, leaving aside climate change and all the other associated problems.  If we don’t start working at this now, we’re only going to see more problems – and we don’t even see all that are already here.

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