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Saturday, 06 July 2013 04:02

Escalation of Oil Spills, Why They’re Getting Worse in the US: Speeches Don't Matter, Actions Do

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oil6 6Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii have confirmed that the heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have reached unprecedented levels, unseen for more than 3 million years. New data released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) have passed the ominous milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm).

Translation: extreme weather conditions will consistently grow worse: glacier-meltdowns, rising sea levels and temperatures, severe droughts, floods, catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, and the tragic extinction of species, polar bears, whales, birds—all resulting from a warming, polluted, overcrowded planet. 

President Obama’s $90 billion dollars in subsidies for green energy companies couldn’t have come at a more urgent time. As a result, American wind-power generation has doubled, and solar power has increased more than six times over.

And yet it’s one thing to assess the scientific data, it’s quite a different experience to witness the horrors that result from industrial catastrophes in the form of life-threatening oil spills.  Due to a lack of strict regulations, toxic oil spills are occurring in the U.S. worse than ever before in our history.

Click here to see the shocking episodes of U.S. oil spills that happened in 2013 alone, including Exxon’s recent ruptured pipe that dumped thousands of barrels of tar sands oil into an Arkansas neighborhood and lake at the end of March.  Click here to see the largest oil spills in history.  The latest tragedy occurred in Ecuador.  A June 5 2013 oil spill is polluting the drinking water and Amazon tributary.   Oil spills are contaminating the world’s fresh water, forests, oceans, lakes, rivers, and agricultural lands.   In 2010 CBS reported, after the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, that oil spills pollute our water and lands eighteen times a day across the country, but are rarely reported.

In 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and opening a gusher that spewed more than 170 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is to date the worst oil spill in history and it has left an enduring and miserable legacy. Gulf residents feel abandoned by their representatives and by the mainstream press. 

The fishing and tourist trades lost billions of dollars to the spill; BP cannot “make it right.” Marine biologists have said that the Gulf may never be restored.

Recently the Tampa Bay Times reported on the University of Southern Florida’s studies of the ongoing massive die-off of fish, plant life (killed millions of microscopic creatures: the base of food-chain and coral reefs, essential for regeneration of life). In short, there are little signs of life left in the Gulf.  The full implications of the die-off are yet to be seen. The foraminifera are consumed by clams and other creatures that provide food for the next step in the food chain, including the types of fish found with lesions. Fish, dolphins, turtles, shrimp – are shockingly deformed, mostly without eyes.  It’s as if decomposing acid were dropped for years into this ocean.  

Congress and the President learned zero lessons from the overwhelming evidence of gross negligence, profits over safety: misjudgments, operational mistakes, equipment failings and oversight shortcomings led to the blowout of the BP well. 

The industry and its Washington allies are resisting reforms that would make drilling safer. And the Obama Administration, after reorganizing the agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling in the Gulf, has largely settled for half measures instead of the robust overhaul of safeguards it promised when the Gulf ran black. 

 As for complaints about “too much regulation” take a good long look at what “deregulation” looks like here.  (These photos were conveniently censored by the corporate networks: a vivid contrast to BP’s cheerful Gulf ads.  At the time, President Obama quickly banned journalists from taking pictures of the mass fish and mammal kill-off to protect BP.  Journalists were threatened with a $40,000 fine and jail time.  Watch this CNN video clip of Anderson Cooper’s anger over Obama’s banning of journalists from covering the ecological disaster.)

After writing about BP’s worst oil spill in history for the last three years, and how the Gulf of Mexico is an eerie dead zone from the combination of millions of gallons of oil that gushed from BP’s 2010 well explosion and the dispersant Corexit that BP continues to use according to recent reports that their Macondo well is not contained, it’s clear that the Obama Administration has a very cozy relationship with BP and the U.S. oil industry. 

If President Obama were truly committed to making significant changes, then why did he allow BP, the most irresponsible oil company on record, to drill in the U.S.?

Instead, Obama permitted BP to accelerate deepwater drilling, after BP demonstrated how treacherous drilling three miles beneath the seafloor is.  

In fact, thanks to Obama, BP intends to drill even deeper than the Macondo in the Gulf of Mexico with a new deepwater well project perversely named “Mad Dog”.  Why?  The answer is rarely reported in the media: BP is the largest oil contractor for the U.S. military and Pentagon.  Check out Jeremy Scahill’s "Fueling War with BP’s Oil" and this 2012 article in Bloomberg, "BP Wins Most Pentagon Fuel Awards in Year after Gulf Explosion." 

The US Department of Defense alone consumes more oil per day than 170 nations. Although the amount of fuel consumed by the military is not published, the quantity is estimated to be between 400,000 and 800,000 barrels a day.  The rising cost of oil from depletion problems explains why the armed services want to invest in alternative energy, including the use of biofuels for ships and planes. 

If the military shifts to sustainable energy, it could mean a major reduction of oil reliance and the end of oil wars.  Predictably the oil-soaked congress, specifically the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently voted to ban the military from spending money on alternative fuels even though the US military is spending an estimated $12 billion dollars on fuel a year.  We shall see how this power game plays out, if the Pentagon will take its marching orders from the oil industry as well.

Again, no lessons learned after BP literally turned the Gulf into a mass burial ground: President Obama gave the thumbs up to Shell for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea. Plagued with high seas, winds, ice, and minimal visibility, Shell’s rig was forced off course proving how another massive oil spill is bound to happen with no possible way to clean it up under these risky conditions. 

Skeptics rightly argue that it’s highly likely that Obama will approve the Keystone Pipeline , a “carbon bomb into the atmosphere” in the words of Bill McKibben, making his (CO2) regulations futile.  Given Obama’s deplorable record of increased oil drilling, it’s doubtful that he’ll reject it.  And just as Mr. Obama refuses to learn lessons from BP’s massive Gulf dead zone, he seems completely oblivious to Fukushima’s three nuclear power meltdowns—and its ongoing radiation problems when he announced in his June 2013 Climate Change speech that we “need new nuclear power plants.” 

The harsh reality is we can’t afford to do “all of the above”.  Either the industrial era of pollution ends, or it will end us.

Jacqueline Marcus taught philosophy at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her book of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press. She is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com.  Her book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone is a work in progress.

(Photo: Blind Grasshopper)