The Gulf - a Disaster-in-Waiting

May 31, 2010, 5:38 PM |



    The first reaction of any seasoned politician the world over to any catastrophe is, in the hope of deflecting any personal blame, to identify scapegoats and machine-gun them down, and it seems to me President Obama is no different in this respect! For Barack Obama (rather surprisingly), the main culprits in the Deepwater Horizon disaster are already clear – they are BP, the Brits in general, and the "drill-baby-drill" policies of the previous administration. This from a man who has now halted all further deep-water development, when less than two months ago he eagerly & willfully sanctioned a whole new bunch of offshore drilling sites to address energy security concerns.

    Day after day now I have heard him pandering to the American public in news bulletins on how he will hold BP to account without any attempt to fairly address the situation with due regard to those really implicated and causally linked. Today, the last straw, persuading me to reply here, and by email (through his alleged open door at was the sight of an ignorant long-haired and grey-bearded last-chance hippy in his fifties, in all probability a welfare case, standing on the Union Jack. Yes, legally, and contractually BP are the first to answer, but they in turn have legal redress on their sub-contractors, and it seems to me that any negligence (at this level anyway) likely lies with them – and guess which nationality they are!

    You can thank your lucky stars the operator, BP, is British. They will not duck their responsibilities. Rather, they will give it their all and worry about fault and blame after it’s sorted. I have to say here I am not unsympathetic, I have lived by the sea and used it all of my life and I have the greatest respect for it and all marine life – it is a terrible, terrible tragedy, that is for sure.

    At no point though does it seem to have occurred to anyone, least of all to Obama and the Southern States demonstrators that the underlying cause is rather closer to home, and that the environmental ruin now being visited on the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean is not primarily about safety failures at BP, and still less is it about lax regulation. Rather it is about, and to do with, America's insatiable appetite for oil.

    Similar parallels with the banking crisis and the sub-prime fiasco are remarkably exact. The underlying cause for world-wide financial meltdown was not greedy, profit-before-safety bankers, though they undoubtedly played a very full part, nor was it the lax and inappropriate regulation, though that, too it seems, was plainly once more at fault. Rather, it was, excessive demand, this time not for oil, but for credit, and again actively sanctioned and even encouraged by public policy!

    Getting back to the case in point, America is far and away the biggest consumer of oil in the world and their consumption of energy in the US is five times higher per capita than the global average. There is little sign of that easing! American lifestyles, it seems, burn an awful lot of energy.

    This is the way it is! US consumption of oil is around 21 million barrels a day, and domestic production is just 6 million. The bottom line is that the American demand for secure, domestically produced oil (we won’t go into the closely-related real reasons for the invasion of Iraq) requires drilling in ever more inhospitable, dangerous and environmentally sensitive areas that tests the boundaries of technology itself. "Energy independence", and freedom from the reliance on foreign supplies, is one of the holy grails of the American machine. Take it on the chin America! It comes at a price.

    I think (before this unmitigated disaster), North America's worst spill was from the Exxon Valdez and was (from memory) eleven million gallons. Best guess (to date) they have on the quantity spilled into the Gulf is already twenty-eight million gallons. It is without doubt horrific and, for me, the biggest tragedy of it is that which will befall the marine life and its environment.

    One final note, the American’s love of Japanese engineering and the Toyota motor company is also well known, as also is Toyota’s recent decline due to sticky accelerator pedals and brake faults leading to god-knows how many millions of recalls. I ask you this!

    Let us assume Obama’s wife Michelle buys a Toyota and whilst heading downtown (driving her Toyota with faulty brakes) to get the week’s shopping at Walmart, she has brake failure and takes out half a dozen children at a bus stop waiting for their bus! Does Obama say: “Fair cop, my wife was the operator, I hold her accountable!”?

    I think not!

    The inquiry into this disaster has yet to get underway and report but I will say this. When things went wrong for Deepwater Horizon (and the initial escape of gas seems to point to Halliburton), the blowout preventer, a safety shut-off valve at the well-head, should have closed and the rig should have been released – neither of these things happened!

    Yes, BP is the ‘operator’, but the rig itself, Deepwater Horizon, is owned and operated by Transocean, an AMERICAN COMPANY founded in LOUISIANA and the services provider, Halliburton, is also an AMERICAN COMPANY founded in OKLAHOMA.

    Oh… and finally, you should know that there is an additional means of automatically and remotely closing the blowout preventers on oil rigs called an acoustic trigger – they cost half a million dollars apiece! Transocean, when asked why Deepwater Horizon didn’t have one fitted, declined to comment!

    Cut BP some slack!