In probably the most honest headline published since the start of the BP oil disaster, today’s Miami Herald writes “With no clear plan, experts brace for worst.” US Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen is contemplating an attempt at plugging the gushing well with a collection of shredded tires, golf balls and other assorted technologically advanced clogging materials. Meanwhile, the BP spokesperson on the scene says, “I have every confidence we’ll find a good temporary solution.” When asked for particulars he revised his confidence to say he has every “hope and prayer.” Another step towards honesty. “Sometimes we are not prepared for adversity,” as Cannonball Adderley once said. Why not approach adversity with honesty?
Oil booms, chemical dispersant, skimmer boats and prep to wash oily wildlife are the basic tenets of oil spill response. For all the creativity and commitment to get oil out of the ground, into your tank and the money in the bank we sure have not made much progress in disaster preparedness or oil clean-up. Every oil spill from the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the Exxon Valdez and the smaller spill of fuel oil in Buzzard’s Bay in April of 2003 employed the same four components. What is being employed in the Gulf Coast today is the same approach on a larger scale. It’s no mystery why this is the case. Unless the oil industry feels the pain through fines, regulations and criminal responsibility there will always be an incentive to cut corners, cross fingers and place confidence in “hope and prayer.”
Philosphers and theologians can weigh hope and prayer, but most of us use the standard yardsticks of oil disaster measurement. The BP oil disaster, although likely low-balled, now has its own ticker. The US Coast Guard estimates there have been 250,000 gallons of Corexit, the chemical dispersant of choice, sprayed on or in the ocean so far. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone was over 7000 square miles before the BP oil disaster. There are about 77,000 miles of coastline in Louisiana alone. And then we have about 900,000 feet of plastic oil containment boom placed along Gulf Coast shores. There are still 5280 feet in one mile.