This Oil Spill Sucks, But We Only Have Ourselves to Blame!!

I have been meaning to write a post on here for a while, but I just keep putting it off, because it seems like too much work. Although I have notes on a few other subjects saved up, I decided that this one currently has me the most upset. We’re talking really upset. This BP disaster is depressing. In general, I (and most people I know) have avoided reading about it, looking at pictures, talking about it, bringing up fossil fuels in any fashion, because it is just too depressing.

This otter has no food to crush on his adorable belly. 😥

Depressing

Look at that picture. It’s not even real, but it’s seriously depressing. This leak has been running for what? 45 days now?

  • More oil has spilled than Exxon Valdez.
  • It could keep leaking until August.
  • The oil is about to hit the white sand beaches of Florida.
  • The Louisiana marshes are ecologically destroyed for decades to come.
  • The damage will include millions of dollars in lost fishing, tourism, and other Gulf Coast industries.
  • Nobody seems to have a clue what to do about it.
  • IT IS DEPRESSING.
  • Look at this bird…depressing:

This tastes like shit

But here’s where things get serious.

We need to stop blaming this guy:

I didn't do it!

He really had nothing to do with it. Yes, he decided they were going to allow for the possibility of more offshore drilling in the future (as a means of compromise with fools like McCain in order to promote an actually progressive energy bill in the future), but he did not cause this leak. A number of folks have raised some good points about Salazar and the fact that the administration did have some time to be more strict with their regulating of this oil rig, but I don’t think they gave this rig any particular exception outside of our nation’s general lack of strict oversight.

Furthermore, he has done everything in his power to stop the leak. No matter how much idiots like this want to say the administration could be doing more, they’re wrong. We really don’t have many engineering options here, and I don’t know what more we could be doing to address this leak specifically. Nonetheless, as friends have pointed out since I first created this post, the administration and Obama could be showing a little more anger over the state of affairs and use this as a means to galvanize voters into creating more appropriate regulations.

This isn’t Armageddon (the movie with Bruce Willis, not the end of days (the actual end of the days, not the movie with Arnold)). We don’t have a magic crack team of oil men, elves, meatheads, and badasses ready to save the day. This is the deepest oil well around. Even if the general public thinks that scientists and engineers have a complete understanding of all things in the world and how to fix them (even though they’re consistently wrong about evolution and global warming), we don’t have the answers! The administration, academic community, military, and oil industry is doing everything they possibly can to fix this problem. It seems almost silly to suggest that they wouldn’t be doing everything in their power. BP doesn’t want that oil leaking; they want it in their piggy banks! Obama doesn’t want the oil leaking; it hurts his PR. So generally, I think we can see they’re doing their best out there.

On a side note, if you remember the movie when we DID have a black president, the asteroid HIT the earth despite all our best efforts (much more realistic).

Who to Blame

Now understandably, people are pissed off. There are all sorts of depressing things going on, as noted above. Billions of dollars are being lost to the Gulf Coast economy. People are already suffering in this depression, and many more are now losing their livelihoods. There’s a lot of good reasons to be angry. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any easy scapegoats here. As discussed above, it’s not Obama’s fault. No matter how much you want it to be Obama’s fault (and you know who you are), it’s not his fault, and he is doing everything he possibly can.

Apparently there is going to be a criminal investigation into what happened, as well there should be. But unfortunately, unless BP, Transocean, or some random player deliberately blew up that rig or failed to follow the almost non-existent safety requirements, than BP is not at fault. BP was only doing what they do every day: their job, which happens to be drilling for oil with the full permission and encouragement of the people of the United States as represented by Congress. Admittedly their worst-case-scenario plans were pretty sketchy, basically stating that this sort of disaster could never happen and if it did, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, so the government should just let them drill. Yes, that is stupid, but it’s not criminal. Perhaps it’s criminal that members of Congress still gave them the go ahead, but the actual oil companies and people on the rig were most likely not at fault here.  Perhaps then we can blame somebody else. Perhaps somebody made the regulations too soft, made it too easy for something like this to go wrong. Could it be that person’s fault?

If so, we could probably be blaming this guy (for everything):

So, he legitimately is partially at fault. I can’t give him all the credit, but his administration oversaw a good chunk of deregulation of the oil and gas industry. And we’re not just talking about your typical, “Let’s require less paperwork for this hard working entrepreneurs in the oil industry!” We’re talking about giving industry types free leases, no-bid contracts, oh, and of course, I almost forgot, passing laws that allow oil rigs to skip installing acoustic safety triggers that would have prevented this BP disaster in the Gulf.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did we misread that? Nope. Brazil, Norway, and most other countries with some concern regarding environmental safety require that oil rigs install a $500,000 device called an acoustic trigger that essentially prevents from occurring, exactly what occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. You can read more about these things here or just about anywhere else. I’m not an expert in the technology, but it certainly sounds like our oil lobby pressed hard for these devices to not be required, saving them $500,000 on an oil rig that makes them billions of dollars. Oh, and that decision was made under George Bush’s watch.

So, there’s one for blaming Bush. You can lay that one on him pretty fairly. It doesn’t help that the regulatory organization in charge of oil rigs is the Minerals Management Service. Yay, the MMS! These were the same guys that were caught in a scandal during the Bush administration in which they were having cocaine sex parties with representatives of the oil and gas industry alongside other bribery and general tomfoolery in exchange for favors. You think I’m joking? You can’t make this stuff up. That’s one of my favorite stories of recent years. We can pretty much blame George and Dick for their policies of behind-closed-door deregulation and coziness with the oil and gas industries (and all business interests generally) for some of this oil spill.

But to really be fair, it’s not their fault. George and Dick didn’t cause this oil spill. If we’re going to blame them for slack regulations, than we also have to blame these folks:

You say offshore drilling can't go wrong? Then I'm all for it!

But wait a second. Those are the people that represent you and me! We voted for them! And they made this oil spill disaster happen by not requiring acoustic triggers on oil rigs! How could this have possibly happened?

By listening to this guy:

It's Morning in America! Have a big cup of oil!

Well, it didn’t entirely start with him, but you can pretty fairly blame him for this 30 year push for ‘deregulation.’ This is the part of the post that frightens me, because this discussion could go on forever and take so many dimensions, but essentially, regulation didn’t used to be a bad word.

Regulations were meant to be good things. From an economic perspective, they are the governments way of checking imbalances in the market: breaking up monopolies, protecting the environment, enforcing child labor laws, protecting workers and employers rights, and generally keeping things running smoothly, fairly, and competitively.

At some point, conservatives started to twist the meaning of the word. Regulation meant Red Tape. It meant bogging things down. Making business more difficult. And we started seeing nonsense like this:

Because bankers don't file any paperwork, and filing some more is going to cause everything to go to hell and suddenly banks will fail, whereas they were perfectly stable before...

I’ll admit, some regulatory requirements could be simplified. Sometimes ‘regulations’ involve a great deal of paperwork, but can you honestly tell me that a little extra paperwork and ‘red tape’ is making your business lose a ton of money? I’m pretty skeptical, but I do recognize that there are circumstances where we overregulate and some where we under. But even in this discussion I’m falling into the trap of talking about regulation vs. deregulation.

First off, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DEREGULATION. It’s a nonsense term. There is regulation and there is other regulation. But there is always regulation. What the government is mostly talking about is RE-regulation. And that is something I can get behind. We should always be having a discussion about how to better regulate industries and our societies, but by framing ‘regulation’ as an either/or proposition, we are not being clear. And as one of my main goals in this blog has been to try to get to a higher degree of clarity, I wish our society could move back to speaking about these things more clearly again.

So when we ask, who is responsible for this oil leak and current disaster, I honestly believe we have to look at ourselves. In general, Americans have gotten behind ‘deregulation!’ for years, because it sounds great. Get rid of the red tape. Free up those companies. Help out business. But that is rarely what is going on. Every industry and every regulation is different. The best thing we can have is a transparent and ‘clear’ discussion of how we regulate each industry, and which regulations are necessary for protecting those interests that American people prioritize, as represented by their elected officials. Unfortunately, the past 30 years have seen an overwhelming zeal for the types of deregulation and government oversight that have allowed for this oil disaster to occur. The agendas of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and many, many (Democrat and Republican) like them have been in favor of these policies and endorsed by their constituents.

Well folks, this is what happens. I hate to say it, but the oil spill is YOUR fault.

This is a lie.

The biggest lesson we can learn here is to accept our blame and do a better job in the future. While we cannot place the blame on any one scapegoat here, we also cannot let the politicians off the hook. It might not be Obama’s fault, and they might be doing everything they can to clean up this disaster (and it is sad that they really have few options. Where is Billy Bob Thornton when you need him?), but this does not mean that we cannot expect more from our government in the future. Demand proper oversight of environmentally hazardous activities. Ask for regulations that protect citizens and the marketplace while still allowing for the conducting of business.

These are the same issues that affected the recent coal mine collapses. Folks had been lobbying for YEARS for less regulation, and lo and behold, people die. Not only that, but it turns out the owner of the coal mine that collapsed was probably bribing our government. MMS cocaine-sex parties anybody? The biggest hypocrisy is these “government get out types” now yelling for the government to do more. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’m looking at you Western libertarians who use government land and subsidies to raise cattle, mine coal, grow wheat, etc.

What we can do is demand an honest, transparent, and CLEAR discussion of the issues. We have to think for ourselves and stop letting other people (politicians, media, and lobbying interests) dictate the tone and direction of these conversations. I’m pro-business; I’m pro-government; I’m even pro-lobbying (with proper oversight and regulation), but behind all of this, I am anti-bullshit and pro-clarity.

Now let’s get back to crying over this oil spill disaster. Because it’s not going anywhere, and like death, there’s nobody to blame, it just happens (this could lead into an entire different topic regarding personal responsibility and problems in our society…).

Today, we can mourn, remember the ‘beautiful’ Gulf (which already had a humongous dead zone caused by Mississippi River pollution), and try our best in the future to not fuck up this badly. Hold your representatives accountable: demand proper regulation and support for renewable energy sources. Let’s build some of these in the ocean instead (although, I’m sure they’ll have regulatory problems as well, hence re-regulation. It’s called life, and it’s an ongoing process).

Sorry for being an 'eyesore,' rich Cape Cod residents. But at least I'm not gushing oil.

“When the hinge is fitted into the socket, it can respond endlessly. Its right then is a single endlessness and its wrong too is a single endlessness. So, I say, the best thing to use is clarity.”

-Chuang Tzu


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About Tony

Lives in Austin, Texas and likes music, art, philosophy, and random stuff.
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15 Responses to This Oil Spill Sucks, But We Only Have Ourselves to Blame!!

  1. Eric says:

    Good post, Tony. Too bad it is so much more coherent than most of the coverage out there.

  2. Henry says:

    “Not one policy decision he made, not a word he spoke, nothing he did caused this leak.” I agree with most of this post, but i think this is a little too strong. There’s nothing the administration could be doing to help stop the leak, so the people who want him to be more “involved” are crazy, i agree. But there are things he certainly could have done (or not done) in order to make something like this less likely. Similarly, there are things he could be doing (or not doing) to make things like this less likely in the future, and that’s not happening either. I think Glenzilla probably has this one right: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/06/03/salazar

    • Tony says:

      I mean, they suspended all new oil rigs, so I don’t really know what they can do for the existing ones. I also don’t think since coming to office he could have run in and immediately separated the regulators from the industry folks, but I’m stoked to read the article and see.

    • Tony says:

      He raises a lot of really good points. Having studied NEPA in school and done environmental consulting, however, I will point out that the author’s understanding is a little skewed. Basically, NEPA is entirely procedural and not at all substantive, so that if they DO find that it causes an environmental impact in the study, they can go ahead with it anyway. As far as I could tell from reading that Salon article, there was no ‘exemption’ provided for this operation that was any different from any other operation requiring NEPA approval.

      Still, I will concur, the government could have done a better job of regulating drilling operations, but the point I was trying to make is that we as a country have endorsed this policy of deregulation, light regulation, lobbyist influence, and so forth. I don’t really get a read from any of this that Obama could have made this operation anymore safe in their April 2009 decision.

  3. Gurnek says:

    There is such a thing as criminal negligence and there is documentation that demonstrates either BP or Transocean is responsible for taking a riskier approach to casing the well which is what they were doing the day of the explosion. Based on what I have found there was a “company man” on the rig who insisted they take the less time consuming and thereby riskier method of casing the well. There was a heated discussion that some claim led to a fight over how this was going to be done, with the “company man” apparently getting his way. While setting the casing they hit a gas bubble which caused the explosion. You can read about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/us/27rig.html

    Here are some sad pictures of this fucked up sitauation: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/06/caught_in_the_oil.html

  4. Susan Su says:

    This is a really smart post, Tony. I’ve learned a ton of stuff in the past 10 minutes.

    But, what are regular people supposed to do?

    Nothing, it seems? Vote better next time? Tell our friends what the deal is?

    It’s a little paralyzing, and I think that’s why people choose not to understand the issues.

    Susan

  5. Scott DeLisi says:

    Tony: Really a very well done, thoughtful, and insightful post. Haven’t had a chance to read it all in great detail yet but very impressed with the overall message and arguments. Thanks for sharing your perspective so cogently.

    Dad

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Dad. I think it felt a little rushed, and I wasn’t really able to go into everything I’d liked to. And as Henry and Nicky pointed out, the Obama Administration and BP do have some culpability. Nonetheless, I think that related to Cody’s message, their motivation to extract and profit from fossil fuels is primarily driven by our desire to consume them and ignore the consequences.

  6. Cody says:

    Good post, Tony. I’d like to point out the other way in which it’s entirely our fault. We keep on using lots of fossil fuels! And we want them cheap. But we don’t want them cheap from the bad guys… we also want them secure. Note that this oil well and others like it would have been considered “more secure” and drilling wells just like this is considered by many to be a cornerstone of energy policy that makes the US as a country “more secure.” Makes tons of sense, right? Well maybe not. Clearly most of us in this country feel damaged by this event: if we’re feeling anything at all, it’s certainly not more secure.

    But if we don’t like this situation we have GOT to take responsibility for it. This oil disaster did not occur because some guys wanted to go out on that rig and drill into the bottom of the ocean under a mile of water to pull up some oil just to show us how badass they were. This oil disaster occurred because we luuuuuvs us some fossil fuels.

    Actually I kid – most of us regular people do not care one way or another about fossil fuels. But this is the issue: if we choose to use a lot of them without thinking much about the risks involved, we end up with nastiness like this situation (or many others around the world that are not near enough for us to see). One thing regular people can do is make clear that this situation is not acceptable… is so unacceptable that we’re willing to change our behavior to reflect our outrage. If we are in fact unhappy and outraged about this disaster on an oil drilling rig, we can… wait for it… use less oil.

    I know, I know… sounds like your typical cliche green wacko stuff. But our choices as regular people actually matter in this area. We choose where we live and work, what means we use to travel between them, where we vacation, etc. Of course we (via our elected representatives) also choose the investments the country makes in infrastructure, and choose the laws and incentive structure that make it more attractive to use more fossil fuels.

    Taking responsibility is not easy, but this is an excellent opportunity to do just that.

    • Tony says:

      Hear hear. There are so many things that this conversation can get us into, but I am glad that along with crying about the dead Gulf of Mexico we can also, maybe, just maybe take a good hard look at ourselves. Sadly, every time I get a glance of a tv news broadcast at the gym or a bar, this isn’t how the talking heads are discussing things. It’s all, “Will the Top Kill Work?!” “Who is to blame?!” “Blah blah blah”. Thank goodness regular people like us, who can have genuine conversations still exist.

  7. Gurnek says:

    One additional problem with assuming collective responsibility is that most people have no idea where the oil goes once it comes out of the ground and all the different facets in which it is a part of our everyday lives. The use of petro-chemicals is ubiquitous and expansive. The stuff is in everything from plastics to paints to your gas tank. The energy uses are the easiest to point a finger at because we are all aware of gas price fluctuations and the green house gases hydrocarbon combustion creates, but serious problems lie with its other uses as well. Our throw-away culture (much of that being plastics) has created a massive trash gyre in the Pacific and now reports of a second growing in size in the Atlantic. The underlying issue is our society’s inability to strike a balance with the ecosystems upon which we are dependent and that will require a paradigm shift to affect. I don’t have any answers as to how we can move toward that balance, but I believe it starts with awareness at an early age. It is essential children be taught about the interconnectedness of all things on this spinning blue marble we call home. I do feel we are moving towards that, I just hope we get there before it’s too late.

    • Tony says:

      See, I think that is why it IS our collective responsibility. The fact that we have no idea is our fault, not the industry’s. Nobody is going to stop folks from misbehaving except ourselves. If we don’t educate ourselves, then we are guilty. Innocence isn’t an excuse.

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