The wages of offshore drilling

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By Hal Rhodes

That off-shore calamity that erupted in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles south of Louisiana has demonstrated anew humankind’s capacity for self-deception.

Start with all those expressions of shock and dismay emanating from off-shore drilling enthusiasts and their political agents that such a thing could come to pass. Who’d-a thought!?

My guess is that even such erstwhile boosters as the now-chronically agitated Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal knew deep down all along that not only could such a catastrophe occur but that it inevitably would.  

There are simply too many elements in play—human, technological and ecological — where drilling deep into the ocean’s floor is concerned for disaster not to be lurking.

Equally delusional were oil industry and off-shore drilling proponents’ claims that, in the event something should go awry, state-of-the-art safeguards are in place to nip it in the bud before things got out of hand.   

President Obama indulged in this shaky supposition during his State of the Union address this year, arguing that oil obtained offshore is a safe bridge to the goal of greater reliance on renewable energy sources.

That hopeful assumption having now blown up in his face, the president finds himself extending a moratorium on new off-shore drilling permits in certain coastline areas.

Perhaps the ultimate self-delusion we have witnessed out the Gulf of Mexico disaster is the notion that such catastrophes can and quickly would be remedied.

“Plug the damn hole,” the president snapped at aides.   

The president spoke in frustration, clearly. Presidents have a lot on their plate and his has been especially full since the first day in office.

Others cannot be forgiven so easily, members of Congress included.

Everything that has happened in the Gulf since April 20 started with legislation authorizing deep off-shore drilling. And if those who authorized such activities did not fully understand the risks—human, economic, environmental—of that authorization, they acted blindly.

Thus the clamor on Capitol Hill to tar and feather the villains in this piece rings simultaneously hallow and disingenuous.

This is equally true of the blame game that has engulfed national television newscasts.  Last week, CBS’s Katie Couric assembled a half-dozen or so Louisianans before cameras and virtually baited them into blaming someone or something for their woes.

“Do you blame BP (British Petroleum)?” she pressed one interviewee.

“Do you blame the government?” she urged another to confess.     

Finally one woman looked up and said, “We’re scared. Our economy, our way of life, is endangered. So we…we’ll blame anyone right now. But that’s not going to change anything.”

Undeterred, Katie took her queries elsewhere until she came upon a prominent member of Congress willing to assure her that British Petroleum was only going through the motions and wasn’t really trying to close the leak .

That same day, in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman was also in Louisiana.   

As Bingaman saw it, BP made gobs of mistakes leading up to the explosion that sent gazillions of gallons of oil coursing through the Gulf. What’s more, he added, BP should pay full damages for what happened.

Still, he noted, “Overall, this has been an aggressive response to a terrible incident.”

Which, over a month after the explosion, resurrects the key question: Why did the American people, through their elected representative, allow anyone to go poking for oil in deep waters off our coastlines without first knowing how to fix the inevitable disasters that would follow?

Speaking of blame games, perhaps our news gathering and reporting organizations could explain why they managed to give short shrift to this story for years.