A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is BP the Only One to Blame for the Oil Spill in the Gulf?

Complexity is something that we human beings like to avoid. Life makes more sense if we can package our reality in a neat and clean way. The same is true when attempting to find someone responsible for an event, particularly one that is tragic and affects people's lives on a grand scale. Such is the case with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But in this case, reality is more complex than cable news soundbites and partisan perspectives.

Let me say at the outset that British Petroleum is primarily and mainly responsible for what has happened. They have cut corners in reference to safety and lobbied the government to reduce regulation in key areas. They are guilty far beyond a reasonable doubt. But when something of this magnitude happens, there is more often than not, more than one culprit responsible.

Over the years environmental groups have utilized litigation and put pressure on politicians to push oil companies to drill in deep water instead of shallow ocean. Their concern was understandable, but near-sighted. The logic was that if a spill happened close to shore, the more quickly it would contaminate beaches and marshland. If the rigs were farther out to sea, rescue crews would have more time to plug the hole. The unforeseen problem, which is now clear, is that it is extremely difficult to plug an oil leak in 5000 feet of water. It is impossible to get human beings down to such a depth on the ocean floor to plug the hole, so all one has to rely on are robotic possibilities. Had this spill happened closer to shore in 200 feet of water, the leak would have been capped within a few days.

Local politicians from Gulf and Coastal states from both parties have acquiesced to environmental groups because they have not wanted such "unsightly" rigs spoiling the sea scape of tourists on the beaches. Moreover, Congress has not allowed drilling in the Alaskan Arctic which would have left minimal scars in the region and would have been quite safe. We must remember that this is the second rig disaster in over forty years with over 30,000 oil rigs in the world's oceans. Modern methods of oil drilling are not the methods of fifty years ago.

So, the long and short of all of this is that the current situation in the Gulf has been the result of a concerted effort on the part of an oil company and its greed, short-sighted but well-meaning environmentalists, and politicians with legitimate concerns, but also making decisions because they are eternally focused on their desire to be re-elected.

Now, before anyone mentions the need and necessity to develop green sources of energy and wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, let me say that I agree completely. But we are naive if we believe that we will be rid of oil and gas within the next decade and beyond. Fossil fuels are our fate for the foreseeable future. What we need to do, therefore, is to continue to drill for oil in the safest and most environmentally friendly way possible, while developing the kind of green technology that will eventually make oil obsolete.

My biggest complaint against business, government, and special interest groups is that they are all so narrowly focused on their own "thing," they are unable to see the big picture of what is best for everyone and will best serve the common good.

Large vision is so necessary; the unfortunate thing is that such vision is not common; and too often the people in charge lack what is needed to see over the horizon that imparts a greater wisdom.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you haven't heard of the blowout at Mexico's Ixtoc 1 drilling platform in 1979. The blowout occurred in only 160 feet of water, but took 9 months to stop. Eight million barrels of oil leaked during that time.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Anon, I am well aware of the Ixtoc incident. But 1979 is a long way from 2010... drilling methods and safety measures have improved exponentially, which is not to say that they are where they should be. One more thing the oil companies are responsible for is their lack of developing even more methods of not only preventing disasters, but developing technologies to minimize them.

Having said that, if this current spill had happened in shallow water, it would in 2010 be capped.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks much for shedding needed light on this subject. Yes, we need to work at seeing the big picture through all the complexity.