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THE OIL SPILL IN THE GULF OF MEXICO: A DIFFERENT CHRONOLOGY

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The Montreal Review, 14 May, 2010

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The explosion of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, owned by Transocean Ltd and leased by BP, exposed not only the dangers of the offshore drilling, but also the inadequacy of the U.S. government and oil companies.

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In March 2010, the Obama's administration announced its plans to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling. This announcement passed unnoticed by the public, because the mainstream media barely mentioned it. In March the only group that was making a real noise about the decision of administration was the mob around Sarah Palin. Palin wrote a boisterous article for the National Review, in which she described Obama's plans for offshore drilling as "all talk and no real action." Palin vowed that she would say what "Drill, baby, drill" really means at the coming Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans (April 8-11, 2010).

 

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico (the rig once described as the most technologically advanced drilling platforms in the world) happened ten days after the Southern Republican Leadership conference in Louisiana - now the most affected from the oil slick U.S. state. Eleven people died in the incident. After extinguishing of the fire from the explosion, BP announced that there is no leak of oil; consequently, there was no danger for the environment. Indeed, in these first days there wasn't sufficient media coverage or political attention to the incident.

Three days after the explosion, on April 23, Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said that "the president still continues to believe the great majority of that [offshore oil drilling] can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment." In other words, the President has been continuing to follow the old policy and commitments. This single incident did not change the administration's long-term policy. Now, nearly a month after the explosion, for the average citizen is clear that this single incident has bigger implications on environment and coastal communities than any commitments and policies of Washington. And nearly a month after the explosion the White House is still timid and unsure about the future of offshore drilling and green policy.

The administration's actions in dealing with this human made disaster have been slow and inadequate. The government relied on BP's reports about how serious the situation is and sent the army to support the efforts of the coastal guards weeks after the spill. A week or two after the incident NASA published a photo showing the magnitude of the spill seen from the sky. The photo was shocking. But the reaction of the administration was invisible and the mainstream U.S. media continued their cautious reporting. About that time, BP admitted that the oil spill is perhaps five times bigger than initially estimated. The only big media in North America, showing real embarrassment, was the Canadian CBC that started to cover the story closely.

The majority of American media continued to report what BP tells without asking the important question "Can we believe this company statements?" Media and government seemed like frozen days and weeks after the explosion. NASA has not published another picture, there wasn't journalistic corresponding from the place of the incident, only reportages from the coast. People and communities along the Gulf coast have became anxious and angry and started to prepare for the moment when the oil hits the mainland. Meanwhile BP started to dump from the air tons of chemical oil dispersants to "cover the crime" and lessen the fears. BP experts also reported that they "injected" chemical dispersants deep in the water around the leak. There were some optimistic media reports that the oil patch on the surface of the sea is diminishing. CNN interviewed a woman relaxing on a sunny Alabama beach that said that she doesn't believe that the oil will hit the coast. These were only rumours, she suspected. Some newspapers reported that people are more panicked than it is necessary. CNN made a live phone interview with a scientist who was sceptic about the chemical cocktail that BP used to disperse the oil from the water surface. The scientist warned that this method is even more harmful to the environment: first, the marine life on the surface was poisoned, later the deepwater ecosystem destroyed. The phone connection was so bad that the viewers hardly can understand what the scientist says. The interview finished prematurely.

CNN has became very sharp and critical to BP and the government only after Ted Turner's appearance at Blitzer's "Situation Room" on May 12. Turner told Blitzer that to obtain energy independence America needs to embrace wind, solar and geothermal energy and phase out coal and oil. He said that he has changed his opinion on the need of offshore drilling. "It is time to say goodbye to coal and oil... it is time to move on," Turner said. The New York Times also has visibly changed its tone somewhere at the beginning of May.

On May1, President Obama attended the White House Correspondents Dinner, the jokes and the gaiety in Washington did not correspond to the troubled faces and anxiety in the South. At the beginning of his speech, Obama hinted that he had doubts if he should attend this dinner, but quickly cleared his conscience and image with Vice President Joe Biden. "I wasn't sure that I should actually come tonight. Biden talked me into it. He leaned over and he said, "Mr. President -- (laughter) -- this is no ordinary dinner. (Laughter.) This is a big (beep) meal..." Next day Obama flew to the Gulf coast for the first time after the incident.

Until now, the visible work of the government was to promise that it will hold BP financially responsible for all damages and cleaning efforts. The governmnet also sent a few military ships to battle the leak. No words about changes in the political will on environment. No words about the future of marine life and the devastation of the ecosystem in the Gulf. The administration said that it will made changes in the structure of the state agencies overseeing oil drilling. But this decision was provoked only just after media reported that the Mineral Management Service (MMS), the U.S. regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the extraction of oil, has been "too cosy " with the oil business and completely deaf to the warnings of its staff biologists and environmentalists. On May11 the Centre for Biological Diversity said that since 20 April MMS approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.

After using chemicals and after one unsuccessful attempt to cap and dome the leak, BP continues to twist or hide information about the real situation in the Gulf and it is still unable to stop the flood of oil. In the recent days, the companies involved in BP/Transocean's oilrig exploitation and ownership started to shift their responsibility for the incident to one another.

Scientists and environmental groups suspect that the estimated leak of 5,000 barrels a day is not correct. They argue that the oil spill is much larger. Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said for the New York Times "The government has a responsibility to get good numbers. If it's beyond their technical capability, the whole world is ready to help them."

Today (14 May, 2010), in an interview with the Guardian, BP CEO Tony Hayward concluded "Apollo 13 [the unsuccessful third mission to the moon in 1970] did not stop the space race. Neither did the Air France plane last year coming out of Brazil [which mysteriously crashed] stop the world airline industry flying people around the world. It's the same for the oil industry..."

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READ MORE:

OIL AND DEMOCRACY | OIL AND POLITICS

OIL, ENVIRONMENT, AND FUTURE | OIL AND POLITICS

OIL AS A WEAPON | OIL AND POLITICS

OIL: FUTURE AND PAST | OIL AND POLITICS

THE OIL SPILL IN THE GULF - POLITCIS AND ECOLOGY

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