Gulf spill exposing cracks in oil industry
Source: Seattle PI
With oil industry nabobs shifting blame, and a
blowout preventer with a dead battery in its control pod, the Gulf of Mexico oil
spill is assuming aspects of low farce as well as large disaster.
The Obama administration spills out e-mail releases
on its every response. We learned Thursday that superintendents from Florida's
Everglades and Dry Tortuga National Parks had been summoned to
Covering fannies comes natural in government, and
dodging legal liability is apple pie to America's big polluters. Uncovering the
truth is the more lasting task.
"We desperately need a presidential commission to investigate the BP spill: The perfect model would be the Rogers Commission after the Challenger (space shuttle) disaster," said Douglas Brinkley, historian and author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New
Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., seconds the motion, after hearing company brass give "Not Me" answers at a Senate hearing this week..
"In the very hearing room where we learned about the
Challenger disaster, we found that this spill is a case of systematic failure:
It's a failure across multiple fronts that demands a larger investigation,"
Cantwell said in an interview.
Americans still favor expanded offshore drilling by
a 50 percent-to-38 percent margin (with 12 percent undecided), according to a
new Associated Press-sponsored national poll.
By a wide margin, however, they disapprove of BP's
response to a disaster that has dumped 4 million gallons of oil into waters that
are the nation's most productive source of seafood.
"We keep hearing that there's been no accident for
10 years," Cantwell said. "Well, if you haven't been in a traffic accident for
10 years, you don't know whether the air bag works. Now we know, with the
Deepwater Horizon, that the blowout preventer does not work."
Honest federal commissions often produce
The Rogers panel did not prevent a future Space
Shuttle disaster, but it did shine light on a hubris that caused NASA to launch
the Challenger in weather that risked catastrophe.
Commission saw veterans of the Manhatten Project and nuclear Navy probe the
Hanford N-reactor, a plutonium production plant built around a graphite core
(like Chernobyl) and lacking a containment dome.
The nuclear industry veterans came away shaken at
corners cut in N-Reactor operations, and the insular "It Can't Happen Here!"
mentality of Eastern Washington's nuclear reservation. The Reagan administration
closed the reactor.
The 9/11 Commission, though scorned by conspiracy nuts, did its business in the open
and produced a compelling report that distributed bipartisan blame. It had
memorable scenes, my favorite when ex-Washington Sen. Slade
Gorton stripped the bark off an arrogant Secretary of Defense Don
The oil boys deserve similar treatment. The most
revealing moment this week came as Sen. Cantwell tried to get BP to answer what
kind of liability claims it would honor. (A federal law caps liability for oil
spills at $75 million.)
"We have said exactly what we mean: We're going to pay all legitimate claims," said Lamar McKay, president of BP America.
"So harm to the fishing industry, both short term
and long term, you're going to pay?" asked Cantwell.
"We're going to pay all legitimate claims,"
"If it's impact on business lost from tourism,
you're going to pay," Cantwell retorted, trying to pin him down.
"We're going to pay all legitimate claims."
Cantwell persisted. "Long term damages to the
Louisiana fishing industry and its brand?" she asked.
"I can't quantify or speculate on 'long term': I
don't know how to define it," McKay responded.
The public DOES get it, and has an active barometer when it comes to BS. We
just don't get enough: TV sound bites are shrinking our attention spans.
But commissions can produce defining moments,
famously at a Challenger panel hearing. Caltech professor Richard
Feynman placed a small O-Ring into ice water, and showed fellow
commissioners -- and the country -- how it grew brittle.
A panel of the 9th U.S.
Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to halt drilling of exploratory wells
by Shell Oil this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. The administration gave
a go-ahead to the drilling last October.
The court found that the federal government's Minerals
Management Service -- BP's rubber-stamp in the Gulf -- met its legal
obligation to consider threats to wildlife (e.g. the Chukchi Sea polar bear
population) and the risk of a spill or accident.
Cantwell isn't buying it. She describes MMS as "too cozy" with the industry,
adding: "The situation in the Arctic is that resources are not there to deal
with a spill. Nor is there the ability to get resources there."
The Anchorage Daily News, usually pro-oil, has praised Obama oil drilling
policy as "a good call" -- but called Tuesday to put Shell's offshore drilling
plans this summer "on hold."
"Given what we've seen in the Gulf, it's a call that demands a long,
cold-eyed second look, a reassessment of risks, response and prevention
capabilities," the Daily News opined.
Its' wise advice. President Obama must name a presidential commission, before
Shell begins drilling. Its charge would be to look at the "systematic failure"
that gave us the Gulf disaster, and risks of drilling in deeper and more hostile
parts of our oceans.
Delay is infinitely preferable to more disaster
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