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The Crisis that Wasn’t: Where’s All the Oil?

The BP spill had media, politicians, and environmentalists once again pitching a worst-case scenario rather than objective analysis.

Jeff Perren


July 31, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Never mind history, too — there have been huge oil spills in the past, after all. In 1979, the Ixtoc I blowout gushed 140 million gallons into the water during the ten months taken to contain the problem. Yet the long-term environmental impact is so low, few even remembered the event until the BP Deepwater Horizon incident. (Some native crab and turtle populations were severely impacted for several years.) For comparison, the BP oil spill injected about 23 million gallons into the Gulf in three months, based on Department of Energy data.

As with any large-scale oil spill, there are local effects, some of them serious. Some citizens of the Gulf states have suffered real harm and should be fairly compensated. BP should be held accountable to the amount of the actual damage and their degree of real culpability. Setting aside his unwholesome love for being an unaccountable petty dictator, Ken Feinberg is sure to see to that, at minimum.

Also, there will be long, careful legal proceedings to establish what liability BP and others incurred. (There are already early reports that some government bodies caused or worsened the crisis. Those responsible will almost certainly escape without substantial punishment, but never mind that for now.) BP has already laid out billions, and no doubt they’ll lay out many billions more before it’s all over.

That’s fine. The evidence so far suggests their safety procedures were lax, even negligent perhaps. Fine. Nail them, if and to the extent they deserve it. But let’s keep a sense of perspective. A serious problem? Yes. But one that, like so many, private parties responded to with vigor and ingenuity, hampered as usual by the worse-than-useless efforts of people focused on finding a neck to support a boot.

Maybe we should wish for a new crisis to distract them. Here’s a candidate: Obama could concentrate on replacing the jobs vaporized by his ill-considered moratorium on deepwater drilling. On the other hand, given his track record in that arena … we don’t need another mess to clean up.

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Jeff Perren is a freelance writer. Educated in philosophy and physics, the lure of writing soon outweighed science. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and blogs at Shaving Leviathan.
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