I've been following the news of the mess in the Gulf of Mexico for the past couple of weeks, and now, as they are close to capping off and stopping most of the oil from pouring out into the Gulf and washing up on the shorelines of several states, I think it's time to make with the perspective. First of all, we all know the basics of the story. The oil rig exploded, collapsed, and that opened this bag-ass mess. The oil slick has been spreading, and has been reaching some shorelines.
Enviro-douches have been screaming that this is THE REASON we should never drill anywhere for oil again, and the administrations has halted drilling while the cause of the accident is investigated. As well, calls for BP, who owned the rig and is the responsible party, to pay for all the cleanup, which, according to federal law, they are already responsible for, continue to echo as though they're going to try to skip on the bill (as that would be SOOOOOOO good for the PR mess they already have..
And President Obama has made lots of speeches, some excoriating the evils of BP (and promising to make them pay big), who must pay for everything, and, to his credit, actually said we shouldn't stop drilling. And probably some directly at the oil slick which then was parted Moses-style to make a path for unicorns towing buckets of Rainbow Fish. That, and eventually the feds awoke to the seriousness and got fully mobilized. Which led to an interesting comparison:
I like this comparison for a couple of reasons. First of all, the screams for the feds to "do something" are just as deafening as when people were stranded on rooftops in New Orleans looking sad and helpless, and stuck in the Superdome, looking even worse. And just as in the Bush Administration's response, the nature of the federal bureaucracy meant that it took time to get things there, in place, and working. So as much as I'd like to say Obama dropped the ball on this, I'm pretty certain that rescue, recovery, and response efforts that begin locally will always be better than the lethargic efforts of a government that has to juggle a gazillion things. For an example of this, take a look at Tennessee, which is recovering from a 1000-year flood.
In short, if you think Bush screwed up with Katrina, then Obama screwed up here. No matter what his myriad speeches about oil slicks say. I'm not going to cast any stones here.
The Risks of Drilling for Oil
Before I go any further, yes, a big-ass oil slick washing ashore in a wildlife area or tourist beach is a very bad thing. And the economic impact of fishing industries paralyzed by the fact that there's oil on the seas is also bad. I haven't forgotten that. But if you're going to look at this from a standpoint of politics, policy, and cold, hard facts, you have to balance the potential and actual devastation against the benefits of taking risks.
So let me compare this to something I know more about: parenting. (Yeah, time for some Free-Range comparisons.)
Life itself is a risk. And one of the worst-case scenarios (thanks to 24/7 cable, a "common" risk) is your children getting snatched from the yard by Stranger Danger, the perv that then rapes, kills, and eats your child, while you make the rounds of cable and entertainment shows, weeping and pleading for their safe return (and not in pieces). The actual stats? Around 100 kids out of millions (less than 0.0001%) get the stereotypical kidnapping treatment, and not all of them end up dead screw dolls. And yet, I'm pretty sure there would be some people that would panic if they saw my children (ages 4 and 5) playing on the sidewalk in front of my house alone, while I am inside working. For the record, there is a big yard in front, there's a parking lot across the street, and the end of our block is a state highway. Although it's also a rural small town and we only have 3 registered sex offenders, none of which show a tendency toward raping/killing/eating children.
So the panic parent would say that a 0.0001% chance is too high, and not let the children roam free outside, when the chances of them being in a car wreck as I drive them somewhere is way higher. But the benefit is that they get to play rather than sit in front of the PS3, playing a game or watching the same 30 seconds of a video clip over and over (ah, autism). And play is how kids learn almost everything that matters.
It's the same with drilling for oil. There are significant but small risks in doing so. Here's the list of spills. The las big one for us was the Exxon Valdez, in 1989. The last one in the Gulf? 1980 (30 years ago). The benefits are domestically-produced oil, which can make it cheaper, safer (compared to 3rd world countries that don't give a shit about the environment), and make us less dependent on countries that hate us.
But the DAMAGE!!!! Well, let's look at this:
Oil is a NATURAL Resource
Just because we refine it into lots of stuff and it can be toxic as shit when in large quantities (as is mercury, lead, radon gas, Mountain Dew, hot wings, and sunlight) doesn't mean it didn't come from nature. And remember, we're dealing with the natural product here: crude oil, which was created by a geologic process long before we came up with the Model T, or steam power, or fire (ok, we discovered that, but...). And nature has ways of dealing with crude oil. Especially in the Gulf of Mexico.
It's called seepage:
Assuming the seep scales are proportional to the surface area, a reasonable seep rate for the entire Gulf is about double the northern Gulf estimate, giving a total Gulf of Mexico seep rate of about 140,000 tonnes per year (ranging from 80,000 to 200,000 tonnes per year).Now if you want to compare that to, say, the Exxon Valdez, that was 37,000 tonnes. Our current mess is at 8,000+ tonnes so far, although that's already an old number. So nature does have to deal with a whole lot of oil already. That also means that an oil spill is not the permanent death of the Gulf Coast.
We're going to have some real environmental damage out of this. We'll have significant economic loss for some people as well that will not get replaced. But we have things like this happen all the time. Whether it's some asshat leaving something to blow up in NYC, a 1000-year flood, or a drill hole a mile down in the Gulf spewing oil, things happen that cause damage and loss. The best we can do is cope with the situation, do what we can to minimize the effect, and look at how to fix them. In this sense, the oil spill is no different. Except that this one can be mostly solved with dish soap and fire.
And On To the Kookburgers....
I need a paragraph or two just for you asswits. First of all, if I have to choose between the risks of drilling domestically, which means less dependence on foreign oil, there is no question that we need to do it (see the rational examination above). Even with every green technology out there now, we're decades at best from completely weaning off oil. They haven't even come up with the tube tech yet (right) so we can travel all over by big plastic tubes (which would be sweet). Or the flying car, which will probably run off a Mr Fusion (left, the perfect complement to a functional flux capacitor) The fact is that there will always be tradeoffs, and if you want to eliminate oil, invent the technology that lets us do so and make it cheaper than oil. Or quit whining about the cost of your granola because the price of gas got so high that the truckers bringing the granola to market just added some surcharges.
And if you're going on about the "ultimate evil" known as Haliburton because they were involved in some way, grow the fuck up and live in the now. Bush and Cheney didn't do it. Damn....
Conclusions (w/ Less Sarcasm than the Preceding Section)
So let's wrap this post up since I'm 1. working, and 2. it's almost suppertime. While a large oil spill or release does present some significant challenges and heart-wrenching imagery of oily birds and wasteland beaches, it's something we continue to find ways to deal with, clean up, and recover from. And oil drilling will become safer as a result. And cleanup tech will improve as a result. And people with brains and the ability to understand that the person who gets us off the oil will be as famous and revered as the people who got us on the oil (and yes, oil was a good thing) will take this and other incidents as motivation to find the next power source, which will also threaten us in some terrible way in a rare accident.
Finally, it's through tragedy and loss that we become stronger and better as a society. Because we always overcome.