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The Oil “Spill”

June 1, 2010

Like every other person who has been online much in the past month, I’ve seen post after post on site after site about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the first that really had an impact with me made this point: “Why do they keep referring to this as an oil spill? There’s a continuous flow of oil pouring out from below the seafloor. This is an oil geyser not a spill!

I’m upset/pissed over this “spill” just like every other person who cares about things other than human profit.  I also can’t help but feel slightly fatalistic over it all.  I haven’t been keeping close track of every single thing BP, Transocean, and the government have been doing, but I have had my eyes open enough to see each drastic change in strategy, etc.  When the “accident” first happened, like everyone else I said “Oh, shit.”  But as efforts to stop the “leak” failed one after the other, I started to say “This is so fucked.”

One of the things that pisses me off most is that so many people are saying that the “accident” was “preventable,” had Transocean/BP/everyone else involved just followed the “rules” and did things “safely.”  On the one hand, of course the “accident” was preventable, but on the other, it was inevitable.  As long as we live in a culture that values profit and comfort and luxury and excess over health, corners will be cut, regulations and rules ignored, and accidents like these will happen again and again and again.  The culture, and most of the people within it, don’t care that these kinds of things happen.  It/they never will.  It/they doesn’t/don’t know how.

When one faces facts, one realizes that the hole will (most likely) not be plugged, and that oil will continue gushing from underneath the crust until the pressure stabilizes.  After it stops pouring out the news will chill out on it.  Media will cover the continued cleanup efforts for a while, my guess is for a year or so (sporadically), and then that’ll be it.  The Gulf will be pretty much dead, but after a while nobody (except those that live on the coast) will care anymore.  At that time BP will go in and, in all likelihood, suck out the remainder of the oil in that hole, the stuff that isn’t spewing out anymore.  None will be the wiser, everyone will pay for it, and things will go on again as usual, BP losing a few billion dollars in profits to be made up later.

On reddit, where I’ve most kept up-to-date, there seem to be a few opinions on what should be done now that this huge “accident” has happened.  The most popular, undoubtedly, is that we should be safe about how we drill for oil in the oceans—but it’d be stupid to just not drill.  (Or, as I call it, the Drill, baby, drill! opinion.  Most people who are of this opinion seem to hate my title for it, though.)  Another is that maybe the oil companies should stop drilling in the oceans, maybe they shouldn’t—but one thing is for sure: BP needs to pay for this dearly. The runner-up for least popular is that we should stop drilling because we don’t need to, but again, BP needs to pay/be torn apart/whatever.  The least popular opinion is the one that caught my eye, and that I (obviously) agree with: “BP this. BP that. BP the other. This isn’t about BP. This is about drilling through miles of ocean and seabed in to reservoirs of toxic sludge and high pressure gas. The inevitable happened – but it could have been anybody’s rig that blew up. Don’t lose sight of that as BP is fed to the wolves.”1 Or, as I’ve put it before: It’s the culture, stupid.

In that thread, other than supporting the submitter (BlueRock), I posted a few things that expressed how I felt about the “accident” and the culture at large.  The first was to a quote from The Living Great Lakes2 and this:

We have to face facts here: The Gulf will probably never return to the state it was in, at least not in any of our lifetimes, and probably not the lifetimes of many of the next generations. The people who live on the Gulf Coast, and maybe even the East Coast (if things get bad enough there) should never forgive those responsible for this atrocity. And I don’t mean BP; here I’m siding with BlueRock. This is the fault of BP and the companies they work with, sure, but it’s also the fault of the culture. Everyone who promotes the ideology of those responsible is at fault here. And we who oppose them should be working to stop them. It will happen again—if not the exact same thing, an event with similar, and possibly worse repercussions.

A little later, this: “It’s a matter of risk vs. reward. The risk is the destruction of ocean ecosystems. The reward is, at best, a few more years worth of oil to burn up,”  (In another thread a few days later I amended this by adding “Read that again: a few more years.”) followed by a quote from The Culture of Make Believe.3 After both, this:

“I don’t know how to get out of this hole, but we should at least stop digging.” Basically saying “let’s see what happens” is akin to saying “Well, you’re right, we might be fucked, but lets dig a little deeper until we know for sure. Maybe we’ll make it to China.”

In case it wasn’t obvious, we’re not going to make it to China.

OK, all of that’s fine, but I’ll shift out of narcissism mode.  I came across this report by Rachel Maddow, and other than rocking back and forth and saying to myself “We’re fucked, we’re fucked, we’re fucked,” I thought, Shit, maybe I was wrong.  When I said “We have to face facts here: The Gulf will probably never return to the state it was in, at least not in any of our lifetimes, and probably not the lifetimes of many of the next generations,” I said it not only because I believed it, but I thought it sounded really, really good.  I felt like anyone who read that (and believed it, like I did), would have no choice but to grasp the total impact of this “accident,” and that they’d want to tear apart the whole system and so on.  But finding out that the same thing happened 30 years ago made me think If the Gulf bounced back (somewhat) from that “spill” in a short time (relative to historic time), why did I assume that this time around the Gulf will be dead for maybe hundreds of years? While my first statement was out of instinct and was emotionally influenced, I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong, even though I doubted it for a little while.  Earlier today I came across an article with this headline (on reddit): “Give the Gulf fifty years and your grandkids might see life returning to the waters and shores. In the human timescale, though, for your life and your children’s lives, Louisiana will be the new Bhopal.”4 (The article seems a little uninformed somehow, and is representative of the throw BP under the wheel opinion, but it makes a decent point or two.)

I guess it comes down to a few things.  First, I do hope that the “spill” is cleaned up quickly, that what’s left of the affected wildlife bounces back quickly, and that the habitats can be healthy again.  That’s contrasted with the disappointment I have knowing that the out-of-work fishermen are chomping at the bit to get back to gathering their already over-harvested species of choice just so they can start making money again.  I’m willing to admit that maybe I’m wrong, and in some sense I hope I am.  Overall, though, I think the differences between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Ixtoc I are large enough for the aftermath to be extreme and felt for a long time to come.  It’s likely that far more oil per day is coming out, and will continue coming out for months to come; this well is in 5000 feet of water and not 200, meaning more water is affected from bottom to surface; the gulf has become increasingly fragile in these 30 years.  I don’t know if, when, or how the ocean will bounce back.  Again, I beg everyone who doesn’t know how to get out of this hole to stop digging.

Notes and links

  1. BP this. BP that…. at
  2. A bit of wisdom at this bloggy thing
  3. When people make profound admissions at this bloggy thing
  4. Louisiana will be the new Bhopal at
    Read more about the Bhopal disaster. Derrick Jensen also has interesting and insightful coverage of the Bhopal incident in The Culture of Make Believe.
One Comment leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 10:10 pm

    oil spills can really mess up the environment, i hope we can find a very good solution to control oil spills *,:

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