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.