Bob Higgins

Spill, Baby, Spill

Posted in Environment by Bob Higgins on April 29, 2010

The oil spill that began when one of oil giant “BP’s”  offshore oil rigs exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last week was initially reported as leaking at the rate of 1000 barrels per day. Last night the Coast Guard upped the estimated leak rate to 5000 barrels per day.

I assume that they are talking about the typical 42 gallon “barrel” the standard measurement for the toxic fluid now gushing from a pipe drilled in a hole in the sea floor. If so, that’s 210,000 gallons of toxic, flammable, carcinogenic, fish, fowl and coral killing sludge every day.

When asked how long it might take to drill a relief well to cut the flow and shut this monster down a BP “spokesperson” responded, “It’ll take a while,” a unit of measurement which is difficult to use as a multiplier. If a “barrel” of oil is in fact 42 gallons and “awhile” is what BP “estimates ” as 90 days then we will have an environmental disaster nearly three times the scale of the Exxon Valdez nightmare around the time we start grilling steaks for “Independence Day.”

Those who have taken more than a cursory look at government, big business and the media in the last decade will recognize that these “estimates” are probably on the low side and the problem is likely being understated. After all, just a day or so after the rig exploded, killing 11 workers, the company said that it was “unlikely” that the behemoth would sink; I have long been “unlikely” to place much trust in corporate estimation.

Along with many thousands of others I cringed last month when Obama caved in to oil interests and politicians corrupted by oil revenue and moved to expand offshore drilling along the Eastern seaboard. This would be, I was certain, an invitation to environmental disaster and a step in precisely the wrong direction for a sane energy policy.

Everyone knows the reasons for Obama’s capitulation, government and business don’t necessarily have to be transparent to be … “transparent.” The reasons all involve a commodity that has become as toxic to our civil affairs as oil is to our environment. Money, great gobs of it, flows to an industry often shown to have little regard for the planet, or for the people who must live on it.

This contaminated cash flows in lesser, but significant wads to the campaign chests of every more or less significant elected and appointed whore from the top, all the way down to our familiarly venal local officials. You’ve seen them, smiling, back slapping, cheese in their teeth and larceny in their hearts; they’re found everywhere campaign funds are traded for favor.

Who will pay for the cleanup? Exxon has been appealing and fighting against the damage awards in the “Valdez” case for over twenty years so I expect that the cost to the taxpayer of this recent debacle will be substantial.

Meanwhile, as hundreds of thousand of gallons of poisonous goop or “light sweet crude” issue from a pipe a mile beneath the surface of a body of water which provides much of the living space, the food, recreation and livelihood for millions, BP and the Coast Guard announced this morning that they are considering burning off large patches of the mess before it reaches … the beaches.

I know that must sound like an impressively high tech solution dreamed up by the wizards, technocrats and geniuses of Big Oil well in advance while planning for “any and all contingencies.” How far downwind should one be to avoid breathing this death fog?

I live in far away Ohio and that balmy breeze will be in my backyard in a few days.

If we adopt a wider point of view, if we pan out and up, above the 1100 workers, above the scores of ships and work boats we see them all laboring under a nearby star. Their labor seems futile when seen with the Sun freely and unhesitatingly pouring its energy on the waters of the Gulf, heating it, driving the winds and the waves, impelling great currents, turning the engine of the earth, pushing countless millions of tons of water ceaselessly around the globe.

Every second of every hour every terra-watt of that energy and that of the rise and fall of the moon-swept tides shower our futility with more energy than we can possibly conceive of ways to waste.

The cynic in me is darkly mirthful but the “better angels of my nature” are saddened by yet another display of this grand and grim folly that is human commerce.

Why do we engage in this insanely futile, criminally risky, life destroying and planet fouling enterprise when we can feel the breezes blowing,  the warmth of the Sun, watch the tides rise and fall, and hear the waves roll endlessly ashore.

Oh, yeah, that other toxic commodity.

Bob Higgins

Related Links:

Counting the cost

Jeopardizing environmental safety?

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