WASHINGTON, D.C. —Incompetence has turned the Gulf oil tragedy
into “Obama’s Katrina.” As more and more startling
facts emerge we are finding almost
criminal ineptness by Washington compounded BP’s almost criminal negligence. As with many crises,
Washington’s reactions cause greater damage than the event itself.
Yet lurking in the mess are the extreme environmentalists staffing
the Obama Administration with their declared agenda of shutting down
all offshore oil drilling. The Sierra Club has bragged about how it
helped shutdown all new coal generating electricity plants. Other environmentalists
are still happy that the Three Mile Island crisis succeeded in ending
all new nuclear-generating power plants. Preventing new offshore oil
drilling in Alaska is another of their primary objectives.
Now CNN reports that almost all new drilling activity has
been suspended for over two months. This includes shallow wells in less than 500 feet
of water--despite Obama’s statement that such wells would not
be affected by his orders to cease all deep-water (over 1,000 feet)
drilling. After thousands of deep water wells have been drilled successfully
without spills, the Interior Department, under Secretary Ken Salazar,
has so delayed permitting and continuing operations as to possibly
bring financial ruin to countless smaller companies. It would be similar
to shutting down all airlines after a single crash. It may be that
Salazar and his gang are just so ignorant of business that they think
the government can simply shutdown the super-sophisticated
flow of supplies and men and then later restart it like flipping an electric
light switch. It’s already estimated that it will take two
years or longer to get Gulf production back to its pre-suspension levels.
Meanwhile, deep-water drilling rigs--which cost over half a million
dollars per day to operate--are being sent away from the Gulf to work
in Africa and Asia where they are wanted. It will take months, if not
years, to bring them back. Some 100,000 high-paying jobs are now at
risk. Already the number of deep-water
rigs has dropped from 42 to 19.
Most startling is the news that large boat skimmers could have sucked
up much of the spill and cleansed it long before the oil reached shore.
At the outset of the spill the Dutch offered skimmer
boats with experienced crews that could have handled most of the spill. As the Christian Science
Monitor reported in “The Top Five Bottlenecks”:
“Three days after the accident, the Dutch government offered
advanced skimming equipment capable of sucking up oiled water, separating
out most of the oil, and returning the cleaner water to the Gulf.
But citing discharge regulations that demand that 99.9985 percent
of the returned water is oil-free, the EPA initially turned down
the offer. A month into the crisis, the EPA backed off those regulations,
and the Dutch equipment was airlifted to the Gulf.”
A giant Taiwanese oil skimming ship, The A Whale, is only now working
on the spill. It can process 500,000 barrels of oily seawater per day,
but it also needed the
same waiver from the EPA which, expressed in
another way, limits discharged water to trace amounts of less than
15 parts-per-million of oil residue. It also needed a waiver from the
Jones Act, which prevents the
use of specialized foreign ships from
the North Sea oil fields because they use non-American crews. Previously,
the skimmers had to return to port to offload almost pure seawater
each time they filled up with water.
In his 6 month moratorium on deep drilling, President Obama said he
was setting up a special commission to issue a report on the safety
of drilling. He’s certainly not rushing. It took almost two months
to appoint the “experts,” yet they won’t even meet
until mid-July. Also none of them are oil engineers; they are scientists
and environmentalists. The Wall Street Journal detailed their backgrounds
in its report, “The Antidrilling Commission.” We also know
that Obama and Salazar lied when they claimed that the six month shutdown
had been supported by their panel of experts.
In Europe the laws
governing oil spills are distinct from ours. They
are prepared for spills and handle them as national emergencies to
be quickly resolved. In Congress, however, the extreme environmentalists
are now urging impossibly severe “punishment” conditions
and sky high uninsurable liability on individual companies that will
almost certainly shutdown all medium-sized oil companies, since they
would be unable to acquire the needed insurance. In America it has
been smaller companies which have led technological discoveries, such
as the horizontal fracking which has now made natural gas abundant.
Yet Obama’s energy advisor, Carol Brawner, says non-major oil
be excluded from Gulf drilling when they, of necessity,
are much more careful since spills could ruin them and put them out
• We have learned that the oil could have been skimmed early
on so that very little—if any—would have reached shore.
• BP failed to follow established industry procedures and made several
consecutive major errors which caused the blowout. This was not a
reason to stop all drilling.
• Revamping Minerals Management in the middle of a crisis has created
a catastrophe in the Gulf that permitted the government to shutdown
continuing operations, even in the shallow waters where Obama previously
said drilling would still be allowed.
Wanting—or creating—scarcity has always been a part of the leftist
agenda, on the theory that scarcities create the need for government
allocation and control. One of the greatest threats of the current
situation is that environmental extremists will use it as a justification
to further their misguided agenda.
A version of this article appeared at Reason.com.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The
American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers and former
associate editor of The Times of the Americas. For 17 years, he was
a commentator for the Voice of America. In the 1980s, he owned and
operated a small oil drilling partnership in Pennsylvania.