Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

{image via Treehugger}

The Deepwater Horizon blowout off the Gulf Coast this April has demonstrated, if anything, the truth of the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Or in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth somewhere between 210,000 and 2,520,000 gallons per day of cure. And we’re on day 35. So if that’s one ounce of prevention per day it would be more like two pounds and three ounces of prevention being worth... well, let’s not get caught up in the math, BP certainly hasn’t. Regardless, we’re facing an oil spill that is likely to be of a greater magnitude than even the infamous Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 which, as anyone who has seen a picture of an oil coated seagull being cleaned with a toothbrush knows, can’t be good on a number of levels. As has become clear in the aftermath of the disaster, BP received an environmental waiver for the Deepwater Horizon rig, just as 19 more have been granted for Gulf drilling projects since the explosion, making strong efforts towards prevention officially unnecessary. The fact that the very sort of exemption that contributed to this disaster continues to be granted at such a rapid rate even after the fact seems to fly in the face of all reason, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise; the Mineral Management Service has a checkered history of adhering to its duties regarding the monitoring of petroleum companies. In fact, the MMS was found to be trading sex, drugs, and financial favors with oil company executives in a scandal that made headlines just a few months before the Deepwater Horizon rig was put in place.

Unfortunately, as with many sad stories about disasters, it gets worse. As Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins points out in her recent article for the Huffington Post, this disaster is disproportionately affecting low income communities and communities of color; roughly half the fishing industry of greater New Orleans is Vietnamese, the same New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and to a lesser extent Rita in a sort of natural disaster one-two punch five years ago. Now these fisherman are losing their incomes and being forced to accept contracts from BP to help clean up the mess they made, despite being woefully unprepared as far as both training and safety equipment are concerned, in order to continue to make ends meet. In effect, BP is strong arming these fishermen into not seeking damages by requiring them to sign waivers protecting BP from further liability in the future in order to be employed as hazmat workers in cleanup efforts.

What we have here is a portrait of a disaster that could have been prevented by the proper consideration of possible environmental hazards related to economic activity, increased government oversight regarding such activities, and simple common sense regarding risk management. Of course, we can all take some comfort in Rand Paul’s observation that “Accidents happen”, and hopefully he will have some similar words of wisdom in the event of an analogous preventable natural catastrophe, such as climate change.

Indeed, climate change has already caused a rise in sea level that has resulted in islands sinking beneath the sea off the coast of Bangladesh, where 36% of the population lives below the poverty line and 18% of the coastline may be under water by 2050, displacing 20 million people. This is all contingent on sea levels continuing to rise as predicted by climate models, which climate skeptics loudly proclaim is extremely unlikely and insist that no action, especially draconian socialist measures such the regulation of greenhouse gas pollution that is putting developing nations such as Bangladesh at risk, need be taken.

Which brings us back to the situation pre-Deepwater Horizon blowout, when the skeptics won over regulation and it was decided that a detailed analysis of the possible repercussions of an accident that would enable informed risk management and provide contingency plans for disasters was unnecessary because disaster was unlikely. It begs the question: do we want this kind of lax regulation applied to a potential environmental catastrophe that would make the Deepwater Horizon blowout look like a walk in the park and would devastate developing nations and subsequently the world? Or do we want to gain more from this catastrophe than learning how Nigeria feels when foreign oil companies enter the domestic picture with less than tranquil results? If we are to have a socially just world with a secure future, the answer is clear. Although we may not be able to see the direct repercussions of climate change that are already happening in places like the Bay of Bengal, it is the responsibility of developed nations such as the United States to begin responding, whether or not we are absolutely certain catastrophe is imminent. BP certainly saved money and time by not taking the proper precautions, and undoubtedly it was easier for the government to avoid having the gumption to ensure these precautions were taken, especially after the MMS was forced to end its aforementioned inappropriately close relationship with oil and gas companies. Anyone can see how that turned out. Now regulators and lawmakers need to take this lesson and learn it.

{ exclusive feature}
by Angus McLinn

We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).