Monday, June 21, 2010

Ixtoc 1, the BP Spill and the Agenda of the Left

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has a lot of people very upset, and with good cause. It's a disaster. We should do everything we can to limit, contain and mitigate damage.

Information coming out during investigation indicates that BP was very irresponsible. A search on BP's safety record shows problems. Depending on what figures you find they've been cited for over 700 willful safety violations in the last few years. Other large companies have under 10 each in the same period.

In short this oil spill is a dramatic tragedy that requires all the attention and all of the resources we can devote to it, and both BP and the government agencies responsible for overseeing them deserve tremendous condemnation. Procedures will need to be developed to help prevent any similar incidents.

There is real hope for quick recovery from this spill. I've heard interviews with people saying you can still find oil under rocks in Alaska from the Exxon Valdez disaster. Perhaps a warmer environment and abundance of life helps do more to break down oil, because there don't seem to be such lingering effects from the Ixtoc I spill. We can't seem to get good estimates of the amount of oil pouring out of the BP well, or the total amount spilled, but estimates seem to put the volume per day and total at far less than Ixtoc I released.

Mexico's state-0wned oil company Pemex was responsible for the accident, and 162 miles of U.S. coastline were affected. Pemex asserted sovereign immunity and refused to help pay for any clean up. Thanks, Mexico!

MALAQUITE BEACH, Texas ... The oil was everywhere, long black sheets of it, 15 inches thick in some places. Even if you stepped in what looked like a clean patch of sand, it quickly and gooily puddled around your feet. And Wes Tunnell, as he surveyed the mess, had only one bleak thought: "... this is horrible! It's all gonna die!''

But it didn't. Thirty-one years since the worst oil spill in North American history blanketed 150 miles of Texas beach, tourists noisily splash in the surf and turtles drag themselves into the dunes to lay eggs.

"You look around and it's like the spill never happened,'' shrugs Tunnell, a marine biologist.

Even in Mexico, which had neither the resources nor the hurricanes of the United States, the oil began disappearing under a ferocious counterattack by nature. In the water, much of it evaporated; on beaches, the combined forces of pounding waves, ultraviolet light and petroleum-eating microbes broke it down.

"The environment in the Gulf of Mexico is used to coping with petroleum,'' says Tunnell. "The seabed is crisscrossed with petroleum reservoirs, and the equivalent of one to two supertankers full of oil leaks into the Gulf every year. The outcome of that is a huge population of bacteria that feed on oil and live along the shoreline."
Source here. Once again, that doesn't mean humanity should do all it can. I'm only saying we have a potent ally in nature, and recovery may be significantly faster than the average person anticipates.

Gulf residents, no doubt aware of the resilient nature of their environment, the rarity of these spills (twice in 30 years is a pretty good record) and their financial dependence on the industry, don't want offshore drilling to stop according to a recent poll.
One thing the oil spill has not done is created a spike of opposition to offshore drilling in Louisiana. 77% of voters still support it with only 12% against. Only 31% say the spill has made them less inclined to be in favor of drilling while 42% say it hasn't made a difference to them and 28% say they're now stronger in their support.
For the Obama administration, none of the above matters. Rahm Emmanuel is famously quoted as having said the administration should never let a crisis go to waste. Here's the quotation in the first few seconds of this clip (if you're interested, you can watch more of it).


What exactly does he mean that you can do things during a crisis that you thought were out of reach? Politicians are aware that there's a range of policy and actions the public will accept. Act outside of that acceptable range, and you lose office. This concept was expressed by Joseph Overton as "The Overton Window." A crisis can cause that window to shift, allowing for policies that would have seemed too extreme in the past.

President Obama has expressed a specific agenda for energy. He wants to make it very expensive so that we use less of it. Remember, during the 2008 campaign, there was a spike in gas prices. Then campaigning Senator Obama wasn't troubled by very high gasoline prices despite the hardship that poses to working families. He was just unhappy with how quickly they'd increased.

In fact, Cap and Trade isn't about reducing carbon emissions. It's about making energy prohibitively expensive. The tax revenue government would gain at your expense is a secondary objective.


The very real connection with the current oil spill in the gulf is that the administration smells not just oil, but blood in the water. The heart-wrenching images of oil-drenched birds and constant cries of permanent ecological damage on the news have shifted the Overton Window. Passage of a Cap and Trade bill as some sort of energy reform bill is very possible given current public sentiment. President Obama announced a 6 month moratorium on new oil drilling in the Gulf. That would have been unacceptable prior to this spill, because it will raise energy prices over time. Prior to the gulf spill, the administration had quietly moved to make U.S. resources unavailable in ways the public wouldn't really notice.* Now they can move quickly to shut down production.

In addition, they'll try to pass a cap and trade bill that will raise gas prices to at least $7 per gallon according to a Harvard study cited in this op ed column. The study itself actually seems to indicate $8 per gallon gasoline. That's a move no one would have accepted prior to this spill. Once the agenda behind it is clear, I hope it's a move we still won't accept, as it would destroy our already fragile economy.


*In case the link ever expires, the article is about HR 1018, ostensibly designed to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to improve the management and long-term health of wild free-roaming horses and burros. The 700 million dollar legislation to acquired more land for the horses that just happens to be loaded with oil and natural gas. The pressing question to ask is if this is our politicians trying to suppress domestic energy or is it just a land and money grab?

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