Big Oil: Big Mess


The oily horror movie playing in the Gulf of Mexico is a wake-up call. No, we’re not looking at a deep-ocean well exploding on our doorstep. Absent a hurricane, we’re going to dodge this deadly bullet. But oil tankers deliver oil up and down the Bay every day — while we are woefully unprepared to handle even the smallest spill.

At this stage, it would be crazy to believe anything you read about our ability to protect the environment from an oil spill. President Barack Obama was told by the whiz kids in his administration that deep-ocean drilling was safe. Then a few weeks after he called for expanding the offshore program, the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

The federal response to this cataclysmic blunder has been Katrinaesque, with lots of hand wringing, finger pointing and pitiful promises.

It has taken weeks to unravel what went wrong, and even now the truth remains elusive. It turns out that even though there was no real backup plan for a disaster of this magnitude, BP was given permission by the Department of Interior to drill. Even crazier, everyone in the oil company loop knew the fail-safe blowout preventer wasn’t fail safe. Internal documents between Transocean and BP warned that the rams might not stop an explosion or a leak. BP ignored the warnings. 

BP may not know how to protect rigs from blowing up and spewing oil all over the Gulf. But that big oil company definitely knows how to contain the story. 

Remember when the oil rig first blew? BP said there was no spill. Then there was a spill — but only 1,000 gallons a day. Then it climbed to 5,000 a day. Then it was 25,000. Then it was — well, God only knows how much.

BP promptly promised to stop the flow with a four-story cap. When that failed, the baby cap was carted out. That bought a few more days. Then came a mile-long straw that sucked more oil than BP claimed was gushing from the ocean floor in the first place. Next up, Haliburton to the rescue with a top kill. The final solution is the new wells, which will be ready next week, next month, by August — take your pick.

Ironies abound, starting with the oil drifting back to Port Fourchon, the staging area for the oil industry in Louisiana. Next, the same environmental groups that have been screaming bloody murder for the past week took BP’s oil-stained money over the last few years, painting the company green in return for lots of greenbacks. Louisiana’s governor, Bobby ‘I Want To Be President’ Jindal, was the poster child for small government. Now he wants the federal government to be the big daddy bankrolling every crazy idea that he and his Cajun crackers can dream up, like dredging sand barrier islands to block the oil.

The truth is: The marshes are toast and the poor critters that come in contact with the oil are goners. There will be investigations and class-action lawsuits out the yin-yang, but attaching long-term responsibility will be like playing pin the tail on the oil slick. Promises will be made. Everyone will be much more careful next time. We promise.

So, imagine an oil tanker steaming up Chesapeake Bay running aground in the tricky shallows off Poplar Island during a line squall. It starts hemorrhaging oil. The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that you cannot clean a saltwater marsh.

Who and what will save us from such a calamity?