The Seven Greatest Myths About the Gulf Oil Spill

It’s a Spill. The word spill means that a portion of a finite amount of stuff in a container is inadvertently transferred to another surface. But in the Gulf, toxic oil from a deposit so large its volume cannot even be estimated is erupting into the water column a mile below the surface at a rate so large it has not yet been authoritatively estimated. If this is a spill, then the eruption of  Mt. St. Helens was a burp.

It’s About Wildlife. Yes, it is too bad about the storks, gulls, turtles, whales and so forth that are getting slimed, and about the threatened species that are about to be pushed over the edge into extinction by the rampaging oil. But if you remember the old saw about the canary in the coal mine, in which the absence of breathable air affected the canary first, remember this: the miners did not thereupon haul ass out of the coal mine in order to save the canaries, but to save their own aforementioned rear ends. Same in the Gulf. The threat does not consist of a threat to wildlife, but is illustrated by what happens to the wildlife. The threat is to the continued existence of an enormous ecosystem that provides a large portion of our food, and whose crash could bring down other ecosystems. We have met the endangered species, and it is us.

It’s About Energy Independence. It’s a terrible thing, this mantra goes, but it’s the price we have to pay for energy independence. Since a) we don’t have energy independence, b) there is no indication that we will ever have energy independence and c) no one, anywhere, has proposed a plan for getting energy independence, it is hard to imagine what it is that makes this price necessary. We consume 21 million barrels of oil a day, of which we produce eight million, 1.7 million from the Gulf of Mexico. So tell me again: the Gulf oil moves us toward energy independence how?

It’s About Government Failure. To the screamers, it’s always simple. “The government should have taken command immediately after the accident,” and “the government should go in there and kick BP out of the way and take control.” Left out of the chants, perhaps to avoid cluttering up the meter,  is the answer to the question: “and then do what?” Where does the government find people who know how to control a blowout a mile under water? Answer: nowhere, because it’s never happened before. Who has the best and perhaps only chance of dealing with this (other than Glen Beck, of course, who is otherwise engaged)? Maybe deepwater-oil people? What, you say, the same people who caused the problem? Look at it this way: If your brain surgeon makes a mistake, and someone has to go back in to fix it, are you going to rule out brain surgeons because they caused the problem?

It’s Just an Accident. Stuff happens, they say. Whaddayagonnadoo? When people drink and drive they sometimes kill people, get arrested, and plead to the judge that it was just an accident. The people on Deepwater Horizon, according to reports, ignored screwy pressure readings from the well, a dead battery in a blowout-preventer control panel, and leaky hydraulic hoses on the blowout-preventer. Then the well blew and the blowout-preventer failed. Honest officer, I only had two beers.

It Never Happened Before. Don’t you love it when you call a company to complain that they sold you a defective product, and they say. “No one has ever complained about that before,” even though you have, several times? Didn’t you love it when, after Katrina, federal officials said no one could have predicted it, only to discover that their own government had conducted drills based on exactly that prediction? Don’t you love it now when BP pleads for understanding because the scope of the disaster is unprecedented, when all kinds of people predicted that if they were allowed to do this, they would screw it up in just this way? Oh, and please answer the question below.

Someone will be “held accountable.” Remember the Exxon Valdez? Forget what you think you remember. A jury awarded those affected by the spill $5 billion dollars in punitive damages. Exxon kept the case in court until the U.S. Supreme Court — just last year, 20 years after the event — reduced the award by 90 per cent. “Held accountable” for damage to public lands and wildlife, estimated at $8 billion, Exxon paid just over ten cents on the dollar. There is no reason to think that BP will be held any more accountable.

[The Supreme Court has recently ruled that for the purposes of influencing political campaigns, corporations are persons with the full protection of the Constitution. So the Court should agree when we propose that the person BP, when proved guilty of causing 11 deaths and untoild devastation to the United States, be taken out and shot.]


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