During the 2008 elections we were inundated with industry-inspired chants of "Drill now, drill everywhere, but drill, baby drill." Both Presidental candidates essentially embraced this.
At the time, we were repeatedly assured by the oil/gas industry and their supply-side apologists in both parties that modern off-shore drilling technology was safe, that environmental safeguards are/would be scrupulously observed, and that off-shore oil spills hardly ever happened or could be easily contained. None of that was true.
Today, the growing oil spill gushing through the non-functioning "safety value" at the destroyed oil platform has spread to an area up to 45 miles long and as wide as 25 miles across [Update: now more like 100 miles and growing]. It’s threatening to hit beaches and wildlife sanctuaries as early as tomorrow.
To slow (not prevent) this now out of control environmental catastrophe from spreading, the crews trying to limit the damage will attempt to tow a tiny portion of the surface oil further away from the coast lines and set it ablaze in the hope that maybe 50 percent of that small portion will burn up, causing less damage in the air then on the ocean surface, but leaving a gunk that, they claim, they can just "pick up" unless it sinks to the bottom.
A Coast Guard spokesman said on Wednesday that crews would begin with an initial burn in a confined area of the spill to determine the density of the oil.
According to a statement released by the group of industry and government officials supervising the burn, the oil will be consolidated “into a fire resistant boom approximately 500 feet long; this oil will then be towed to a more remote area, where it will be ignited and burned in a controlled manner.”
From there, officials will conduct “small, controlled burns of several thousand gallons of oil lasting approximately one hour each.”
So the plan is to cordon off and burn ponds 500 feet long as the way to attack a spill covering 45 miles by 25 miles and growing every day?
Recall that the safety valve at the well head, which was supposed to be able to shut off the flow through the pipe broken off from the destroyed platform has failed. Apparently, either the valves don’t work at 5000 feet under water — did anyone test it? — or the explosion and break damaged it, raising the question whether anyone ever thought of this possibility.
Remember this when the industry tries to tell us, as they inevitably will, that they have adequate safeguards in place against the potential for remote but still predictable catastrophic scenarios.
The alternatives, to drill additional nearby wells and shoot concrete into the same pool to clog it up, or to capture the oil with a huge bubble over the leaking pipe, are still months away at best and have never been attempted at these depths. Did anyone consider the fact that fallback measures might not work at these depths, or might not be implemented for months and thus allow massive spills to continue, to potentially destroy a vast region before being implemented, when they evaluated the adequacy of safety measures?
Failing to think through the consequences of what could go wrong under predictable scenarios lies at the heart of America’s morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt energy policies.
The only reason the fatal mine disaster in West Virginia has been pushed off the front pages, or we’re not focusing on the destruction of whole mountains and their watersheds and the health of communities nearby is because the oil platform catastrophe story, along with Lloyd Blankfein, filibusters and Greece, equally egregious symbols of unfettered markets and greed, replaced it.
But even before that, there were several related stories in recent months about the nuclear power industry. In one story, the President announced how building additional nukes would help us solve global climate change and promote energy independence. To further that, the government would provide billions in subsidies, in addition to the decades-old subsidies that insured nuclear operators from lawsuits over the consequences of nuclear accidents that, we were told, could never happen, until they did.
But about the same time, the nation’s nuclear plant owners were petitioning the Department of Energy to discontinue the requirement that they contribute millions each year to a fund to pay for the handling and disposal of spent fuel nuclear waste from existing plants. Their argument was simple: since the US Government has given up on Yucca Mountain and has conceded that it doesn’t have a proven, workable technology for disposing of toxic nuclear waste, or even a preferred site for where to put it, there’s no sense in contributing to the fund until the US gets its act together.
Excuse me, but the California Energy Commission studied the issue in depth, 30 years ago, and concluded that the DoE and NRC didn’t have a clue how to solve this problem. Thirty years later, we now know little more, except what doesn’t work.
The third nuclear story was the near accident in Chile, where nuclear waste materials were being removed from their original site, packed in supposedly safe containers to be shipped to the US for temporary safe storage. Luckily, the process of removing the toxic waste into the shipping container had just been completed days before the Chilean earthquake, so Chile dodged that bullet and it was still "safe." But the quake had damaged the original shipping port, so the container had to be secretly hauled over an alternative, unplanned route and shipped from a port not fully equipped to handle very large/heavy containers that you’re not supposed to drop, ever. As Rachel Maddow reported at the time, they literally almost dropped the container while loading it.
Stuff happens; really bad stuff happens. And it can happen at the worst moments with the most dangerous materials. And yet Congress and successive Administrations continue to develop and defend energy policies under the delusion that they’ve thought it through, and the deception that they’ve taken the right precautions and adequately warned the public about the real choices we’re making. But with the mainline energy choices on which the US is still dangerously dependent, we could do with lot more humility and a ton more honesty.
Meanwhile, we have to listen to narcissistic spoiled brats like Lindsey Graham tell us that he won’t do his job unless he gets enough attention. But the only goals Graham has ever had in the climate change/energy legislation is to make sure the nation continues to stay wedded to morally bankrupt energy choices.
Seminal/Seymour Friendly, Update on status and media coverage
Think Progress/Brad Johnson, Government investigates oil spill
GetEnergySmart Now!/ Fossil Fuel Investigations Overwhelming Government?
Charlie Crist to join "Not as crazy as Republicans" party; reconsiders off-shore drilling
HuffPo via Ilovemountains.org/Matt Wasson They’re still blowing up our mountains . . .
Grist/Dave Roberts: On Graham Reid dance