Friday, May 14, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Continues

No one knows for sure how much oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. But pictures of the size of the spill show the impacted area growing every day. If 210,000 gallons a day are leaking from the well at Deepwater Horizon as BP says, we already have a spill of over 5,000,000 gallons. Keep in mind that a number of scientists believe the spill may be much larger.

No one knows when the leaking oil will be capped. But the oil executives—who seem to get to the top based on their public relations skills—are getting egg on their faces as they point fingers at one another and trip over their feet as more and more mistakes, blunders and misguided shortcuts are revealed. And then there's Tony Hayward, CEO of BP who told us the other day than fighting the oil spill is a bit like landing at Normandy. But now, according to The Guardian, he's telling a little different story:
Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief executive of BP, has claimed its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean".

In an bullish interview with the Guardian at BP's crisis centre in Houston, Hayward insisted that the leaked oil and the estimated 400,000 gallons of dispersant that BP has pumped into the sea to try to tackle the slick should be put in context.

"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," he said.

Hayward is apparently an idiot who receives a very large paycheck every year. One has to be amazed at these things. Here's a graphic from NOAA that shows the size of the oil spill (bigger maps are available on NOAA's webpage):


That's a spill that potentially stretches along half the Louisiana coast, all of Mississippi's coast and as far east as Mobile, Alabama. The blue areas, the core of the spill, just continue to grow every hour.

Now Tony Hayward says that the gulf is very big and the spill is rather tiny. Let's take a look at the Gulf of Mexico:


The first thing I notice is that the water of the Gulf of Mexico is surrounded by land—lots of it. Along the shore are beaches, marshes, shipping, breeding grounds, hatcheries, fishing marinas, industry and lots and lots of wildlife and habitat. Hayward is a fool and doesn't know what he's talking about.

Unfortunately, the longer the oil spill goes on, the more potential there is for enormous damage. As a news story from Reuters reminds us, hurricane season is approaching:
Meteorologists say that climate conditions are ripe for an unusually destructive hurricane season, the storm-prone period that runs from June 1 to the end of November in the Gulf. Oceanographers say that could hurt the clean-up.

"If a storm comes into this situation it could vastly complicate everything," said Florida State University oceanography professor Ian MacDonald.

"All efforts on the shoreline and at sea, the booms and structures and rigs involved in clean-up and containment, could stop working."

One doesn't have to be a scientist to see the potential problems. If nothing else, a hurricane can shove oil ashore. But no doubt the public relations departments of the oil companies—as well as their Washington lobbyists—will continue to be 'bullish' about the clean-up and the future of offshore drilling.

In reality, though, it doesn't take much homework to discover that the big oil companies know truths that many Americans would rather not know. The simplest truth is that oil is no longer cheap. The second truth is that beyond the next ten to twenty years, the oil companies have no business plan to maintain worldwide oil production and they have no solution to the diminishing reserves of oil throughout the world. The third truth is that it will take ten to twenty years to develop a robust infrastructure for renewable green energy. The fourth truth is that the American taxpayer is paying to subsidize the obscene profits of the oil companies when those tax dollars should be spent protecting our future with a huge investment in green technology.

Admittedly, some oil companies are slowly getting into alternative energy. But I would not be comfortable letting the Tony Haywards of the world be involved in the new economy we need to build. In fact, that would be a mistake. In the last three years, Wall Street, the big banks and big oil have shown us how not to do business. We need change. Maybe Obama is finally understanding that change is not a political slogan but a necessity.

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