Sunday, July 11, 2010

BP Spill: Mega-disaster, or mega-crime?

(Published in InCity Times, c. 6/6/10)

Was the Hurricane Katrina disaster natural or man-made? And if man-made, was it negligence, stupidity or a crime? Most of us have thought and argued about whether people in and out of government should have faced criminal charges for deliberately failing to protect or evacuate the people of New Orleans. Hurricanes happen, but the death and destruction was arguably mostly man-made, and much of the negligence was arguably deliberate "benign neglect" in Nixon's famous phrase.

So how about the Deepwater Horizon oil "spill" now underway in the Gulf of Mexico? BP has been fibbing about the size of this mega-disaster, and their ability to stop it appears doubtful. It may already be the second largest spill in history, with no end in sight. The oil appears to be shooting from multiple vents, moving below as well as on the surface. It could well destroy all the fisheries, natural habitats and tourist industries along thousands of miles of Gulf coast, and it will probably enter the Gulf Stream, which will bring it into the New England fishing grounds within months. It’s a freakin’ calamity!

Was this disaster natural or man-made? That’s a no brainer; of course it was man-made. God didn’t drill those holes into the floor of the Gulf! Even if a hurricane or lightning strike had set it off, it would have been a man-made disaster.

We learned today that BP “upper management” was overheard saying that they were “taking shortcuts” by injecting salt water instead of drilling mud into the well before capping it. Routine negligence or stupidity? Normal corporate decision-making? Or criminal behavior?

A bigger question is why was there so little regulation of these rigs. A government inspector might have discovered in time that the manual shutdown mechanisms on this rig were out of order - one key switch was found to have had a dead battery! Where were they? It turns out that in 1999 BP filed a ludicrous environmental impact statement saying that the risks were minimal for drilling in this area, on the basis of which they were exempted from a full environmental report requirement and were allowed to be mostly self-regulating. Was this a failure of a normal system of oversight? Or could it be seen as part of a criminal conspiracy to legalize the kind of criminal behavior that led to this disaster?

And then, why were there no automatic acoustically-activated “blowout preventers” such as other nations require? They cost about $500,000 each, and it turns out that the oil industry lobbied vigorously and successfully against a requirement that they be installed on all wells. Our democracy at work? Or a criminal conspiracy between the oil corporations, the Congress and the regulators?

But wait! There's more! An even bigger issue is why are we allowing deep-sea drilling at all? Scientists have been warning for years that it is an invitation to disaster, but all our efforts to stop it have been overwhelmed by the power of corporate lobbying. Even if we are able to put strong regulations into place, even if we are able to re-impose the kind of safeguards that might have prevented this spill, there are so many of these wells, and hundreds more every year, that more disasters are bound to happen! (Not to mention that each off-shore well contributes massive amounts of oil and heavy-metal pollution over its lifetime!)

Now Obama has authorized drilling Arctic wells, wells which will be under sea ice in the winter where it would be impossible to do anything at all about a blowout until the summer thaw! And just days before this disaster Obama gave the oil industry permission for drilling off the Atlantic Coast, something which environmentalists have been fighting for a decade! Why? Is Obama so spineless that he can’t stand up to the oil interests? Is it that Congress is so addicted to oil money that Obama has no political cover for standing up to Big Oil? Or is Obama himself so beholden to corporate contributions that he has become a mere golden-tongued sock-puppet?

The biggest question, which the Gulf oil spill is rubbing our faces in, is whether our entire political and economic system become one great criminal conspiracy. And then the next question is whether we still have the power to change it. The only way to find that out is to try. Starting with no more supporting of candidates, no matter how reasonable-sounding, who take the corporations' money and do their building.

Here in Massachusetts, we are facing another mind-numbing gubernatorial campaign between multi-millionares over how to give away more tax money to the corporations while shutting down city and state services and blaming the unions or undocumented immigrants. Luckily they don’t have the ability to produce an environmental mega-disaster like the one in the Gulf, but they probably would if they could! Witness the Cape Wind project, where pandering to corporate greed has turned a great idea into a massive swindle!

We simply have to stop electing the kind of politicians who can’t tell right from wrong, who live in a world where greed is good and normal, and who place the interests of their contributors above those of the people. When they masquerade as Democrats we should hoot them off the stage!
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