Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another 100 Days: The BP Catastrophe

One hundred days ago, an oil rig operated by BP (British Petroleum) sprung a leak and exploded. For weeks, tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico fouling beaches, destroying habitats, shutting down businesses from fisheries to tourist attractions. What is clear to the public which eluded the Obama administration, citizens and businesses saw clearly, an environmental catastrophe of historic proportions was spreading out of control. Equally obvious was the how clear it was that the response from BP and the Federal Government was dreadfully insufficient, lacking urgency, priorities, and organization.

Barack Obama and his top officials appeared tangled up in webs of bureaucracy blind and insensitive to the realities along the coast. The President showed more concerned with policy and finding targets to direct blame often to obfuscate attention from his inadequacies. BP, particularly its chief executive, Tony Heyward, proved to be the absolute worst example of an irresponsible, unresponsive, self-serving corporation. The world will not soon forget Hayward's comments about how the amount of oil leaking was so small compared to the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico or how he wanted the problem resolved so he could "get his life back."  It didn't help matters to see how often the President was playing golf, engaged in lavish entertainment events such as a White House serenade from Sir Paul McCartney while the BP Chief was shown engaged in a prestigious yachting event.

The bottom line is between Obama's conspicuous incompetence and hubris and BP's corruption, the job has never been done effectively in a time effective manner. Some attempts looked like nothing more than desperate trial and error. Meanwhile the oil kept gushing, the oil's damage to sea and shore worsened, and lives were ruined. Local leaders, particularly Governor Bobby Jindell of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, worked decisively to get results despite being caught in the crossfire of the Federal Government Bureaucrats and Corporate Stooges.

We are told most of the oil flow was disrupted when a cap over the well shaft was installed. No visible emissions are apparent at that location. We are also being assured that the construction of a relief well that will completely shut down the distressed facility is progressing and should be accomplished within the next couple weeks.

While this news is welcome, it's only a fraction of what needs to be done. The disaster recovery will last for years with some damage that might be considered permanent. The extent to which this disaster has disrupted the region's ecology could take months to assess. Meanwhile, how are the marsh lands to be revitalized. What will happen with contaminated fisheries and spawning grounds? Restoring nice sandy beaches will be the easiest and most visible fix, but we cannot allow such photos to disguise far deeper and more serious problems.

As the visible damage wanes, when there are no longer pictures of a well gushing and bubbling oil and aerial shots of huge pools of oil on the Gulf of Mexico's surface, the coverage becomes less dramatic and hence less urgent for the news media to continue to cover. In the weeks ahead, the problem will be largely out of sight and hence out of mind.  We cannot let this happen. The effort must continue until the damage is fixed. Likewise, every BP official, every involved subcontractor who overlooked safety requirements must be held responsible and prosecuted. The tales of shortcuts taken and and procedures not being followed are damnable. Additionally, the extent to which the Obama administration dropped the ball in its response must be fully exposed, naming names, and those who have not discharged their jobs responsibly will be held accountable. Likewise, here is a prime example which proves Barack Obama is incapable of providing the kind of leadership to deal with real problems in real time. The ideological or policy response means nothing.

We are not approaching the end or a time of celebration. The first one hundred days are only the beginning.

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