Monday, May 3, 2010
Drilling may be needed,but..."It can't be done at the risk of having to spend billions of dollars cleaning up these spills."
"There is no such thing as overregulation of this industry. Offshore drilling carries real dangers. It must be tightly regulated."
"The big lie -- after the Exxon Valdez disaster was blamed on a drunken captain -- is that everything is safer now, that new technologies make (big spills) impossible: It's out and out industry propaganda,"
Lessons from the Gulf oil spill
Last updated May 2, 2010 1:27 p.m. PT
By JOEL CONNELLY
The crowd in New Orleans cheered last month as Sarah Palin, in a reprise of her 2008 vice presidential bid, defined energy policy as: "Lets 'Drill Baby Drill', not 'Stall Baby Stall'."
The huzzahs stopped when 210,000 gallons of oil a day began leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, after explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, and washed toward coastal estuaries that sustain a billion-dollar commercial and sport fishery, and shrimp harvest.
"They were saying this couldn't happen, and it happened," said former Louisiana Sen. J. Bennett Johnson, a longtime friend of Big Oil.
As the Obama administration worked to stem the damage, Rush Limbaugh was on the air blaming the lethal blast and leak on "environmental whackos" who want to "head off more drilling."
But this disaster needs to drill a fundamental truth into the heads of Americans.
Don't trust Big Oil, and don't let it set America's agenda. Our country cannot sacrifice its economy, climate, fisheries, air and water quality at the altar of the carbon economy.
"We are looking at a wildlife disaster that is unthinkable: This could be the Exxon Valdez on steroids," historian Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, said in an interview.
Brinkley has seen those TV ads in which British Petroleum -- owner of the lease site -- claims its initials stand for "Beyond Petroleum."
"We've got to stop listening to the oil companies' fake environmental rhetoric," Brinkley said. "There is no such thing as overregulation of this industry. Offshore drilling carries real dangers. It must be tightly regulated."
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a teaching moment. We, in the Northwest and Alaska, need to be learners.
Exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska is scheduled to begin in 59 days, in a harsh and icy Arctic environment. Will the Obama administration hold off, or adopt Palin's attitude to go-for-it even if, in her words, a wild creature has to "take one for the team"?
A few years back, British Petroleum wanted to virtually double the size of its refinery dock at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, to accommodate more tankers. The dock expansion was to take place in front of our inland waters' premier herring spawning grounds.
Republican rulers in the U.S. House of Representatives included a provision deleting all safety restrictions on tankers in Puget Sound in legislation to encourage more refineries. Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Dave Reichert, R-Wash., raised hell and had the language deleted.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the oil industry's great and good friend, introduced a bill to repeal the 1977 law that limited the number and size of tankers serving Puget Sound refineries. Sen. Maria Cantwell stopped him with the threat of a filibuster.
This April, the Obama administration opened vast new areas off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to oil leasing. It put off-limits Alaska's Bristol Bay, but signaled a go-ahead for the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea.
Even this didn't satisfy Big Oil's strumpets on Capitol Hill.
"Keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources of the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising," said House Republican leader John Boehner.
Big Oil has given us several -- painful -- teaching moments.
The 1969 Union Oil "blowout" in a Santa Barbara Channel drill rig was an impetus to the first Earth Day, and coastline protections that people like Rep. Boehner would overturn.
"I don't like to call it a disaster, because there has been no loss of human life: I am amazed at the publicity for loss of a few birds," said Union Oil president Fred Hartley. Actually, it was 10,000 birds.
The quip caused a public uproar. The industry gussied up its PR and promised that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, with tanker traffic out of Prince William Sound, would do no harm.
"Wernher von Braun, you know the spaceman, assured me that all the technology of the space program will be put into the doggone tankers and there will not be one drop of oil in Prince William Sound," Sen. Stevens told a skeptical Cordova fisherman.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster has receded into history. More recently, corroded BP pipes and leaks of oil onto the tundra at Prudhoe Bay, drew a hefty federal fine but coverage.
"The big lie -- after the Exxon Valdez disaster was blamed on a drunken captain -- is that everything is safer now, that new technologies make (big spills) impossible: It's out and out industry propaganda," Brinkley said.
Last week, about 200 people gathered in Seattle for a photo display by Florian Schulz, a young German photographer who has been shooting in the Arctic for an IMAX project and an upcoming book by Braided River.
The screen filled with polar bears and cubs on ice flows of the Chukchi Sea, bird life on Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve, and vast caribou herds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"Everybody has seen what is happening in the Gulf, but the oil companies are saying this can be done safely and without harm," Shultz noted. "They have told us they can switch it off at the push of a button."
Sure! In future dealing with Big Oil, there comes to mind the famous Ronald Reagan haiku for arms deals with the Soviets: Trust, but verify.
Drilling may be needed, but as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week: "It can't be done at the risk of having to spend billions of dollars cleaning up these spills." The damage endures long after that.
Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joel on Twitter at twitter.com/joelconnelly.
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