Want to Forget the Oil Mess? - Please Don't
Man, it's hot. I'm usually a political junkie. But when it's this hot, it's hard to concentrate, hard to care. I usually keep the radio in the truck tuned in to NPR to keep informed. But lately it's been tough - bad news from the Gulf of Mexico, bad news from the Middle East, bad news from Afghanistan.
And the Democrats in Congress seem more concerned with appeasing Republicans than cooperating with each other and representing their constituents. It's no wonder that people are exasperated, cynical and angry.
I was about to change the channel when I heard the unbelievable news that President Obama's offshore drilling moratorium had been overturned Tuesday morning by Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The moratorium applied only to deepwater rigs, those operating at depths of more than 500 feet. That's just 33 of the 3,600 rigs operating in the Gulf - fewer than 1 percent. Regardless, Judge Feldman felt that the perceived risk was not sufficient to justify the jobs that were being held up for the length of the six-month moratorium.
It's a curious ruling, to say the least. Deepwater Horizon isn't the only oil spill this year. There's one continuing in the Red Sea, Jebel al-Zayt, and another in the Gulf of Mexico, Taylor Energy, that has been leaking since the platform was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Last year, an oil rig in the Timor Sea 125 miles off the coast of Australia caught fire during an attempt to stop a spill that resulted in a 58,000 square mile oil slick.
There's actually a website dedicated to the subject, www.oilrigdisasters.co.uk, which lists 167 oil rig disasters of varying proportions resulting in 1,075 fatalities before Deepwater Horizon.
Oil rigs are inherently unsafe. While there is no doubt that BP was particularly negligent with regard to Deepwater Horizon, it is equally clear that all the oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico are working out of the same playbook. They use the same methods, employ the same contractors and refer to the same bogus contingency plans with dead experts ensuring the safety of walruses.
If you compare the Ixtoc disaster of 1979, which leaked 3.5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, to today's Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is apparent that we are no better prepared for an oil rig blowout today than we were 30 years ago.
The very next day after Judge Feldman issued his ruling, a clumsy robot dislodged the cap that was collecting at least some of the oil that was gushing from the broken well. How can the oil companies be trusted to handle the next disaster when they don't know how to handle the one at hand?
Last week, Joe Barton, former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, apologized to BP CEO Tony Heyward for the Obama administration's "shakedown" of BP for the damages done to our shores and residents affected by the spill.
Fellow Republicans, sensing public sentiment on the subject, attempted to distance themselves from Barton's remarks, and Barton issued an apology. But his remarks were not extemporaneous, and he's far from alone in favoring the interests of big oil over the viability and vitality of one of the most vital regions of our country.
Judge Martin Feldman's ruling was an affirmation of Joe Barton's remarks, an affirmation of an ideology that favors the interests of corporate America over the environment and the interests of working Americans.
It matters whom we elect to represent us. It matters that they be held accountable for representing all the people, not just the highest bidders. It matters who appoints our judges and what those judges' priorities are. Even in a week like this when it's hot and we're distracted and sick of the whole rotten process, we have to be engaged.
We have to care.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at email@example.com.
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