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May. 21 2010 - 5:36 pm | 543 views | 2 recommendations | 7 comments

One-month anniversary of BP disaster

A sad anniversary, and it’s only getting worse.

Up to now, only tar balls and a sheen of oil had come ashore. But brown and vivid orange globs and sheets of foul-smelling oil the consistency of latex paint have begun coating the reeds and grasses of Louisiana’s wetlands, home to rare birds, mammals and a rich variety of marine life.


As BP CEO Tony Hayward demonstrated, many people remain ignorant about the magnitude of unseen damage the underwater oil geyser is inflicting upon the ocean’s ecosystem right now. Hayward’s comment that the oil patch is “relatively tiny” compared to the “very big ocean” probably represents the views of many Americans.

Sanitized language like “patch,” “spill,” and “plume” make this terrible event seem more like a minor inconvenience – like a baby spilling a glass of milk. It’s adorable, really, except when it’s beautiful or delicious i.e. when it’s being described by Rep. Gene Taylor as “a light, rainbow sheen with patches that look like chocolate milk.”

Meanwhile, the “patch” is now larger than Maryland and Delaware, combined. The AP is desperately trying to depict the magnitude of this event by using an array of easy-to-envision examples:

a month’s worth of leaking oil could fill enough gallon milk jugs to stretch more than 11,300 miles. That’s more than the distance from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and back. That’s just shy of 130 million gallons.

I overheard an MSNBC reporter utilizing the visualization of high school gymnasiums — hundreds of them — stacked atop one another, filled to the ceilings with oil.

Those members of the media fighting the good fight — the ones who are trying to get the public to understand how bad this catastrophe is — are battling a giant corporation’s PR machine. It’s now clear that BP was either being disingenuous, or lying, when they told federal agents they could handle an oil spill 60 times larger than Deepwater Horizon. Purdue Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Steven Werely, estimates that nearly 100,000 barrels — 4 million gallons, or an Exxon Valdez every three days – is spewing from the leak.

BP attempted to block the press from filming the extent of the oil disaster. In fact, the company’s first reaction was to limit damage inflicted to its public image, and protect profits, by buying off the victims, and quickly making the visual evidence disappear using chemical dispersants, which have been banned by the UK, into the ocean. The EPA has since ordered BP to use less toxic chemicals.

Scientists have now discovered enormous underwater oil plumes, described by one of them as a “shocking amount of oil.”

The team found evidence for oil in three or four deep layers, including one 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in places.  They found them in the deeper water – the shallowest at around 2,300 feet, the deepest, near the sea floor at about 4,200 feet.

They also found the underwater oil plumes depleted the oxygen in the water, which they fear may endanger marine life.

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers used the ridiculous rationalization that the Gulf is a “dead zone,” so the 4 million gallons of oil emptying into the ocean every three days aren’t really harming anything. A more astute reader pointed out that the ocean has these things called plants that are extremely valuable to the ecosystem. Just because there aren’t dead dolphins washing up onto the beach every day (there have been some, but the oil’s role in their deaths is unclear) doesn’t mean the geyser isn’t inflicting massive damage.

BP estimates that the gusher could continue until early August, a date that falls right smack in the middle of hurricane season. Needless to say, the presence of a hurricane will significantly restrict any clean-up effort. In fact, a severe storm could propel spilled crude and tar balls over vast expanses of sea and beach, according to scientists.

I know I shouldn’t speak out of turn here, lest Rand Paul think me un-American for daring to criticize a business’s unethical practices, but lots of people have gone to prison for doing far less than the damage inflicted upon society by BP. They misinformed federal inspectors, and cut corners at every turn, and they have no desire to stop this behavior. While Americans were gnashing their teeth about this horror, BP ran up to Canada to urge their officials to adopt the same deregulation measures. You know, because profit is all that matters. Long live, President Paul!

This is America’s same ol’ deregulation song and dance. Big business shaves the bone to make another billion dollars, endangering everything from the environment to workers’ lives along the way, and when a mine or a rig explodes into flames, killing workers and poisoning the planet, all the CEOs and politicians shake their heads at “what a shame” it all is.

It’s more than a shame. It’s a crime — a totally preventable crime.


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  1. collapse expand

    You just had to drag poor Rand Paul into this didn’t you? hehehe Good girl! This disaster makes me cringe and I just don’t know why the rage isn’t widespread. This isn’t an accident this is a crime of the highest order. It’s not like these guys just started drilling for oil yesterday. It amazes me that BP (and the government) don’t have worst case scenario plans in place but when you listen to Tony Hayward it’s like this is insignificant and will remain so. Perhaps if Mr Hayward’s house was covered in insignificant he would understand what’s going to happen in the Gulf for years to come. Where’s the rage!? One drop is too much and this is infinitely worse.

  2. collapse expand

    And Obama has done absolutely nothing…..except have a free dinner with the mexican president announcing they are both for open unregulated borders…..but Obama wants to regulate every aspect of the american peoples’ lives

  3. collapse expand

    We will not, most of us, live to see the final reckoning of this disaster. In terms of the life (all life) that it will destroy or effect it is a holocaust (not to offend anyone who thinks humans are more valuable than dolphins).

    No one will go to jail, since prosecutions in this country are political (not ‘just’) and the oil company politics are in great favor. Corporations are not persons, in fact they are inimical to persons, because they induce humans (otherwise mostl with some minimal moral baggage) to harm humans in the sure knowledge that the wealth of the corporation will protect them/hide them. Corporations themselves are not afraid of “justice” because here in america it is simple a business expense. Corporations don’t go to jail, and their executives don’t go to jail either. Just like the armed forces (order to torture from the very top of the command structure, but when it becomes a crime the corporals go to jail).

    • collapse expand

      you make an excellent point about nobody being held responsible for these screw ups. Not just this but with stuff like the financial meltdown and the like, the big shots are paid a fortune to make the big decisions and when they go wrong the ceo and management should have to pay the price both financially and legally. They are the representatives of the owners. If mom and pop company screws up mom and pop lose their house and if they broke the law they go to jail. Big Business should be no different especially since our beloved Supreme Court ruled that business has the same rights a people and can contribute to political campaigns like people. grrrr

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    There is no way we can sugar-coat this. It is an environmental disaster. However, we need to keep this in perspective: There are other natural vents of oil in the gulf and in the ocean. See http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10388&page=191

    There is an ecosystem to digest this stuff. It is not the end of life as we know it.

    That said, even as someone who votes right of center, I have very little sympathy for BP. Laws aside, the fundamental rules of business is “Don’t Shit Where You Eat”.

    Whatever happens to BP, they had it coming for a long time. I’ll be surprised if the company is still doing business here in North America in the next year or two.

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    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

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