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Jul. 16 2010 - 12:18 pm | 111 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Will outrage dissipate without live oil-spill video?

BP's latest cap, the capping stack, as it was deployed from the ship above.

For more than three months, up to 15 cameras have fed Americans live video of BP’s oil-spill disaster from nearly a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The metaphor was not hard to catch–instead of fueling planes, trains, and automobiles, the gushing crude was fueling outrage.

Now that the spill has been contained by a cap that could divert all of the oil to ships above, will the outrage run out of gas? Will images of oiled birds and dolphins keep Americans hot under the collar, or will they turn to the live video for assurance, fill up their tanks, and go on doing what it is that Americans do?

Two hours ago in the Rose Garden, President Obama said that’s a worry.

A reporter asked, “Sir, do you think this means that basically we’re turning the corner at least in the Gulf? Tell the American people what you anticipate in the next few weeks ahead, because they’re still very anxious about this.”

And Obama said, essentially, remain anxious:

Well, I think it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves here. One of the problems with having this camera down there is, is that when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we’re done — and we’re not.

The new cap is containing the oil right now, but scientists are doing a number of tests. What they want to make sure of is, is that by putting this cap on the oil isn’t seeping out elsewhere in ways that could be even more catastrophic. And that involves measuring pressures while this cap is on. The data is not all still in and it has to be interpreted by the scientists.

But here’s the good news that I think everybody needs to understand. Even if it turns out that we can’t maintain this cap and completely shut off the flow of oil, what the new cap allows us to do is to essentially attach many more containment mechanisms so that we’re able to take more oil up to the surface, put it on ships — it won’t be spilling into the Gulf.

The final solution to this whole problem is going to be the relief wells and getting that completed, but there’s no doubt that we have made progress as a consequence of this new cap fitting on, and that even if it turns out that we can’t keep the containment cap on to completely stop the oil, it’s going to allow us to capture much more oil and we’ll see less oil flowing into the Gulf.

Now, in the meantime, obviously we’ve still got a big job to do. There’s still a lot of oil out there, and that’s why we’ve got more skimmers out there, there’s better coordination on the ground along the shorelines, there’s still going to be an enormous cleanup job to do, and there’s still going to be the whole set of issues of surrounding making sure people are compensated properly, that the $20 billion fund is set up and is acting expeditiously.

So we’ve got an enormous amount of work to do and people down in the Gulf, particularly businesses, are still suffering as a consequence of this disaster. But we are making steady progress and I think the American people should take some heart in the fact that we’re making progress on this front.

Asked if the relief wells that should eventually seal the leaking well are on target, Obama said they are ahead of target, but he did not elaborate.


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  1. collapse expand

    There are certain watershed industrial disasters that will continue to have a significant impact on industry long after they have occurred.

    The Three Mile Island nuclear reactor melt-down was one. The Union Carbide MethylIsoCyanate (MIC) Disaster in Bhopal, India was another. The Exxon Valdez supertanker was yet another. And yes, the Deepwater Horizon will be remembered for decades to come. There is still outrage to be found on all of these events decades later.

    The question is whether we will ever move beyond outrage and attempt to learn from the experience. The lessons from Three Mile Island were not lost on industry. People have learned a great deal since then, and yet, despite standards to the contrary, the infamous alarm overload problem still persists. It is an easy trap for plant superintendents to fall in to. The results here are mixed.

    The recent fire at Bayer CropScience’s plant in West Virginia shows that some haven’t learned a damned thing about the storage and management of MIC. The plant in WV was of a very similar design and vintage as the one in Bhopal. The plant owners and managers tried to stonewall everyone, including first responders, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and even Congress. Sometimes people DO repeat the mistakes of yesteryear and it is only by dumb luck that they don’t get similar disasters. The CSB report on this debacle ought to make for some sobering reading. The managers and owners of this mess have a lot to answer for.

    Disasters from ships such as the Exxon Valdez are less likely today with excellent navigation, moving maps, and on board SCADA to manage the ships systems. A repeat of the accident would require the failure of many systems, not just one. I call this a learning experience.

    And if the design of BOP systems are improved as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster (IEC 61508 compliance might be nice) I’ll label this the way we have labeled many disastrous learning experiences: a very expensive win.

    President Obama is correct, we have much work left to do. The key is to remember the outrage, and to work hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

  2. collapse expand

    Answer to the headline: a resounding YES. People are sheep, they need to be told what to think. Remember Terry Schiavo, the people who carried on like this was an event that would change their lives, force them to take vows of poverty, give up their first-born children because Terry’s life was so sacred. When she was mercifully allowed to die, it was like, “Okay, what’s next?”

  3. collapse expand

    Yeah!! media has created such an environment about the Gulf of Mexico that every body is worried about the miserable state of wild life in the Gulf. I wanna congratulate the media for their efforts that has kept us updated about the ongoing efforts in the Gulf.
    Dermitage Reviews

  4. collapse expand

    Obama used the word “we” twelve time in this speech…..but i guess he should, since he turned this oil leak into ten Katrinas all ined up in a row

    • collapse expand

      Andy, I noticed all the second person, too. And I checked prior speeches on the spill, going back to the start. He has been doing it from the beginning, in reference to the response, the stoppage, the cleanup. He uses ‘they’ when he talks about BP screwing up, he uses ‘we’ when he talks about the screwup being ameliorated. So he used “we” so much in this speech just because this speech is almost entirely about solutions.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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