Some Contrarian Thoughts on the Gulf Oil Disaster

I think my credentials as a critic of President Obama are fairly well established, but it’s absurd to blame him for the oil spill, or for the failure (so far) to stop it.  And calls for Obama to show more anger have led only to the demeaning spectacles of Obama saying he wants to know “whose ass to kick,” and his press secretary saying “I’ve seen rage” from the President.

Usually I come down on the Bush side of Bush-Obama comparisons, but in this case, blaming Obama for the oil spill is even more absurd than blaming Bush for Hurricane Katrina.  The primary blame for the Katrina debacle goes to inept and corrupt state and local first responders (remember the cops looting stores and the scores of flooded buses that the city was supposed to have used for evacuations?)  But Bush has to answer for having appointed an executive of a show-horse association to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  A FEMA director with actual emergency-management experience might have realized earlier on that it was amateur hour in Louisiana.

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico makes it more appropriate, not less, to open up limited areas of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil production.  If the oil rig explosion had occurred on land, rather than over a mile of deep water, the oil gusher would have been stopped weeks ago.

Tanker spills are a more serious problem than oil-rig accidents. As Steven F. Hayward writes in The Weekly Standard:

Despite post-Exxon Valdez safety measures, tanker oil spills occur more frequently and release more oil than offshore drilling accidents, by a wide margin. Over the last 50 years, offshore drilling spills, including the Deepwater Horizon, have unleashed a little more than 1 million tons of oil; tanker accidents have spilled 4 million. For every offshore drilling spill, there have been seven tanker spills, many much larger than the Exxon Valdez, only the 40th largest tanker spill on record.

Even if the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts into the fall, it will still not even be the largest offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That dubious achievement belongs to the Ixtoc 1, a Mexican platform near Yucatán that blew out in 1979 in circumstances similar to the Deepwater Horizon (the blowout preventer failed after a gas surge from the well). It took Mexico’s famously inept Pemex almost 10 months to stop the leak, by which time 460,000 tons of oil had leaked—still the largest accidental spill in world history (Saddam Hussein deliberately fouled the Persian Gulf at the end of the first Gulf War with 1.2 million tons).

Finally, I can understand anger and frustration at BP, but certain expressions of that anger are ridiculous.  There’s no point in vandalizing BP stations — all that does is damage a local franchisee who has no say whatsoever in anything the corporation does.  And please spare me any further histrionics about keeping “a boot on BP’s neck” or pressuring the company to try harder.  The company’s stock price dropped more than 50% from the day of the accident to last week, wiping out $90 billion in market value.  Nobody on the planet wants the damage to end more than BP.

7 thoughts on “Some Contrarian Thoughts on the Gulf Oil Disaster

  1. Of course, you are factually correct. I have stated the same myself numerous times. More importantly, there are so many land based sources – even in the lower 48 States – that it isn't even funny. And yet, virtually all of them are off limits – while we go further and further off shore…. To what purpose?

    The further we go offshore: the more dangerous drilling becomes, the more costly it is to do it, the harder it is to do it safely, and the more damaging the effects we reap from our inevitable failures. If you don't want to drill in the arctic refuge, then pick up a map and point out where we can do it. There's oil [honestly] almost everywhere in North America. We have the single largest supply of Oil on Earth!

  2. Great post, Kirk. As an Obama supporter, I was really upset that he stooped to the calls for him to be angry. It sounded ridiculous, for one thing, as this is not a man who gets all 'angry' as a way to look busy and important. And it was counterproductive in many ways. His standing went down internationally (notably with Britain) and it diminished him and the office. I really hope he never does that again. just because the rest of the country is foaming at the mouth at each other, doesn't mean he needs to get in on the act. Also, as you say, what does it get us? I'm not sure I completely agree with drilling in Alaska, but I do think that we need to enact some tougher laws on what companies need to put in place so that they can respond better than BP has done.

  3. Thanks Pat. There's so much transparent showmanship… now I see the Coast Guard has given BP a 72-hour deadline to come up with a new plan. Or what… they'll be kicked off the recovery team?

    therealamerican, I don't think American oil is quite as plentiful as you suggest…

  4. It took the Mexican government 10 months to cap the leaking Ixtoc I. 3 months into the Deepwater Horizon and its beginning to look as bleak.

  5. I agree, blaming Obama for all of this is not fair (and I'm no fan of Mr. Obama). But we have a generation of Americans that really believe that government can do everything only if the "right" person is at the helm. So much for that.

    "I don't think American oil is quite as plentiful as you suggest…"

    Our reserves of natural gas are ENORMOUS and we have to drill to get to some of it. Drill, baby, drill.

    BTW, where's FEMA been lately?

  6. Pingback: Reaction to Obama’s Speech Reflects the Limits of Government Power | All That Is Necessary...

  7. Vulcan, I just did a follow-up post on the limits of government power.

    Thanks for the comment, but I gotta tell you you made me cringe with "drill, baby, drill." Because it was a repeated chant at the Republican convention, that phrase serves only to associate the disaster with the Republican Party — which I don't think is what you want. I agree that there needs to be a lot of drilling for many years to come, but I don't think that phrase is helpful.

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