We are not facing an earthquake like that which rocked Haiti or a volcano such as spewed its lava and pollution high above Iceland. This Gulf oil spill is man made and off shore oil drilling is one of the most heavily government regulated activities of commercial capitalism. The rigs are regularly inspected. Drilling is impossible without multiple permits. Each step, each piece of equipment, each procedure must be specifically approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
To blame BP for this spill and the failure to clean it up is, of course, reasonable. It is, of course, their malfeasance which caused the spill and their technological inability which has let it continue to gush.
But we don’t elect the leadership of BP and it is not responsible to us.
We do, however, elect the president and he and his appointed Secretary of the Interior are very much responsible to us. And, after eighteen months in office, both President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are responsible for their own actions in running the regulation of oil drilling in deep sea waters.
The total failure of the regulatory process is grossly evident, more so with each passing day of this spill. Nobody seems to have considered the possibility of a massive explosion which would trigger a huge spill. There appear to have been no plans for dealing with it, either in the short or the long term. There is no standby program to shield beaches from the oil or any program waiting on the shelf to stop the environmental damage.
But an oil spill caused by a rig exploding is obviuosly an eventuality which should and must have been foreseen. Gas and oil is flammable and explosive. It comes as no great surprise that something can and inevitably would go wrong. That the government failed to anticipate and plan for this eventuality takes one’s breath away.
Imagine if the federal government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission had allowed nuclear power plants to be constructed with no failsafe plans in the event of a meltdown or the release of radioactivity! Imagine if it had never foreseen this possibility! There would be hell to pay and rightly so.
President Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar deserve the strongest condemnation for failing to anticipate the liklihood of a major oil spill due to an explosion. The experience of Exxon Valdez led to legislation requiring double-hulling of tankers. But there appears to have been no consideration of the chances of a major spill in mile-deep water.
What business did the government have issuing permits to drill in deep water without a plan for coping with an explosion and a spill? What was the Interior Department doing when it failed to demand adequate protection in the first place and a feasible plan for containing the damage if something went wrong?
Why is not Obama being blamed for this gross oversight? Environment is up his ally. It is, supposedly, a major preoccupation of his Administration. Yet his neglect of the ecological consequences of a spill of this magnitude is undoing generations of environmental protection of our fisheries, beaches, wetlands, and marshes! How long will he be able to escape blame and avoid responsibility for this disaster?
It is OK to blame BP. But we should blame equally the government that let this spill happen.
This is not to say that the Bush Administration and, for that matter, the Clinton White House should not also be held responsible for letting the drilling commence in deep waters without adequate planning. In fact, the Clinton Administration specifically exempted oil companies from taxation to incentivize exactly this kind of drilling. But neither Clinton nor Bush nor BP is in power. Obama is and he deserves a round of condemnation for his obtuse failure to plan for a disaster that was always inevitable.