Drill, Baby, Drill…or Spill, Baby, Spill?

When the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico owned by British Petroleum (BP) exploded last month, most people did not expect that two weeks later, the Gulf coast, from at least Texas to Florida, would eventually be threaten by what is becoming one of the biggest oil spills in history.  After all, the oil industry and its conservative deregulation-supporting friends have been claiming for years that modern-day oil drilling is safe, environmentally friendly and good for everyone.

Of course, they have neglected to define whom “everyone” is, in the context of their statements.  Most likely, they simply “forgot” to include such people as fishermen, restaurateurs, and folks whose livelihoods depend either directly or indirectly (as in the domino effect) upon the intertwined economies of the Gulf coast communities, or anywhere else where an “impossible” massive oil spill might occur.  And they must have simply “forgotten” to include environmentalists and people who have properties that might be contaminated by any such “impossible” massive oil spill.

When Sarah Palin ran as the GOP vice-presidential candidate in 2008, she frequently supported opening up America’s coastlines and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. She shouted “drill, baby, drill!”

She very recently repeated her mantra of “drill, baby, drill!” at a speech before the Tea Party movement.  Other conservatives have been equally verbose in their support for continuing America’s addiction to oil by encouraging increased oil drilling in America’s environmentally sensitive areas.  “It’s absolutely safe!”, they keep chanting, as they criticize those pesky lunatic environmentalists warning of a potential disaster.

Over the past two weeks, however, these same oil-drilling supporters have been strangely silent, as the BP oil rig sank and three holes on the ocean floor that BP had been harvesting oil from continued to spew out 210,000 uncontrolled gallons of oil a day.  BP has tried to stop the oil by sealing the underwater wells, though so far it has only been successful in sealing one of those outlets.  The massive oil slick, which is growing in size, made landfall in Louisiana on April 30th.  Sadly, most experts at this point expect the situation to get much worse long before it gets better.

Most shocking of all, however, is the revelation thatinvolves a remote-control shut-off device called an “acoustical switch“.  This device is a last-chance fail-safe device designed to choke off an oil well in an emergency. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service, decided against requiring the use of this device by oil companies operating in America, rationalizing that it was not necessary because “rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.”  This rationalization by an agency of the Bush administration came after the oil companies complained about the expense (US$500,000 each) of having to install the “acoustic switch”.  Concurrently, these self-same oil companies were reporting enormous profits of over US$40 billion a year (at least!!) at the time!

But wait!  There’s more!!

Remember “Tricky-Dick” Cheney, Bush’s vice-president and overseer of the super-secret Cheney Energy Task Force meetings with the oil industry.  His and Bush’s policy of deregulating everything they possibly could got a boost in those meetings.  According to a recent interview on the Ed Shultz show (which you can watch for yourself HERE), the results of those closed-door meetings were orders issued to the government agencies involved, such as the US Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, to deregulate as much as possible, and to not regulate anything new.  Were it not for this, the “acoustic switch” might well have probably been required for every off-shore oil rig in the USA, just as they are in other countries, such as Norway and Brazil.  And the Gulf oil spill might have been prevented!

Regardless of political leanings, most people would agree that a primary function of government is to protect public safety, particularly when people cannot do so on their own.  Protecting an industry and environment which is depended upon by a population for their livelihood and economic well-being, as well as their health, is certainly an issue of public safety.  But when a government sacrifices that well-being of its people, even in a small region, in favor of protecting short-term profiteering on the part of the financially powerful, it is not living up to its purpose.  And why would anyone, besides the ruthless profiteer, want a government that does not serve the purposes of the greater good of its people?

It will be months or possibly even years before the full impact of this environmental disaster is completely evaluated.  But it will take more than just investigation to determine exactly how to prevent it from happening again.  It will also take a lot of courage on the part of congress and the Obama administration to make the hard choices necessary to ensure the public safety against another disastrous oil spill.

Step one might just be for President Obama to say, “Oops…on second thought, maybe off-shore drilling isn’t such a good idea, after all.”