That's Oil, Folks

The oil-spill disaster in the Gulf appears inevitable in hindsight

| May 27, 2010

The more we learn about the BP oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the more we ought to question the basic assumptions that led us here. Like the explosion of the housing bubble that ruptured the world economy, this human and environmental tragedy resulted from a system that encourages reckless profiteering without effective regulation.

It is impossible to understand why an accident like the Deepwater Horizon disaster was inevitable without looking back on an era when the energy industry dominated government. The oil bidness, as it is known affectionately in Texas, could do no wrong under the Bush-Cheney administration, which was run by former oil executives and their lobbyists. Remember that among the top priorities of the secretive energy task force run by Vice President Dick Cheney was relief for Big Oil from "burdensome" environmental regulations.

Countries that impose strict oversight on their energy sectors are exemplary in protecting worker and environmental safety.

As The New York Times reported recently, the Washington zeal for deregulation let offshore oil drilling proceed virtually without interference from government, even though scientists and engineers repeatedly raised safety and environmental concerns over the past decade. Warned specifically that the blowout-prevention technology drillers were relying on to prevent an explosive spill was faulty as long ago as 2000, the oil industry did nothing except to drill deeper.

As for the Mines and Minerals Service, the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing the drilling operations, it did nothing, either — except to reduce its inspections of safety equipment. Presumably, the MMS failed to act because it was infested with crooked officials who took drugs and engaged in sexual relationships with oil industry personnel — and accepted bribes from them, too. The oil industry was allowed to drill, baby, drill wherever it wanted, often without even paying royalties to the federal government.

But the culture of American government, from the executive branch to Congress and even the judiciary, has been infected with a disease deeper than corruption: an ideological deference to corporate power, in the name of "free markets" and efficiency, that enriches a wealthy few at the expense of the nation. While this pattern can be detected across many sectors of the economy, its effects are now felt most acutely in the financial and energy sectors, whose power over government is legendary.

Such an imbalanced system encourages financial firms to take enormous risks, pocket the profits, and let the taxpayers, workers, and communities suffer the consequences. And the same system encourages oil companies to take enormous risks of a different kind, resist strict environmental requirements, book huge profits — and then let the rest of us cope with the consequences of their devastating pollution (although we can hope that BP will pay for at least part of the Gulf cleanup).

Free-market ideologues and other corporate shills insist that this is the most efficient way to do business, which is true enough for a corporate manager or a stockholder. But it isn't very efficient for the nation whose public wealth, natural resources, and future prosperity are depleted by these ruinous practices.

In America, we have been told for more than three decades that there is indeed no other way to run an economy — and certainly not if we wish to preserve our traditional freedoms. But looking around the world, it's easy to see through those old platitudes. Countries that impose stronger regulation on their financial sectors did not endure the same kind of disruption we did and emerged more swiftly from the recession. Countries that impose strict oversight on their energy sectors, including offshore drilling, are exemplary in protecting worker and environmental safety.

The world's best record on offshore oil is enjoyed by Norway, a free and democratic country where North Sea oil provides not only a major source of employment but the funding for universal health care, education, and a panoply of other important benefits. In Norway, oil drillers are expected to implement the most advanced systems of environmental protection. That's because the Norwegian people own the oil, and the oil men answer to them.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer and, where this column first appeared.

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Go Nuclear! Cleanest, Safest, Cheapest !

Posted by MickeyWhite on 05/27/2010 at 12:03 PM


Barack Obama agrees with you. Not 60 days ago he signed new funding for two brand new Nuclear Powerplants in Georgia. We already have the answer and even this Socialist President knows it. He just doens't want to wake the liberals just yet. He likes keeping them distracted with shit like solar panels and windmills.

However, the world depends on our for many things...........

pantyhose, Carpets, gauze, clothing
artifical arteries, veins and surgical catheters
IC chips that make computers, phones, Ipods and technology work
many medicines
plastic (contact lenses and glasses, car parts, appliances, solar panels)

The reason Barack OBama will make no more difference in energy productions than Clinton, Bush 1 & 2, or anyone else is because civilization is built upon oil.

BP was lax in this mess, but so was OBama because the rig could NOT start up until an Obama administration official signed off on all the safety documents required beroe it could start up.

The pressure environmentalists put on oil companies, just or unjust, is largely responsible for America remaining severely entrenched in Arab Oil.

Proof? Obama guaranteed America that we would be out of Iraq by the end of 2009.
Our military will not withdraw from the Middle East in your lifetime, nor in the next generations.

The only way for that to happen would be for liberals to read, become educated in science and realize why we will always need large amounts of oil. When environmentalist wackos get off the Global Warming nonsense and realize we have to drill, then things in the Middle East may ease up.

Conversely, until giants like our government, BP and EXXON convince the public that that the earth will be properly safeguarded, the public will be weary of drilling.

That would take a lot of courage and good will by a lot of people. Unfortunately, it is easier to just keep our thumb on the pulse of oil by maintaining a military presence in the Middle East.

Those wars will continue long after Obama leaves office in 2012.

Posted by Tommy Volinchak on 05/29/2010 at 11:21 AM

Damn Tommy, is there nothing you won't lie about?

The rig 'started up' in 2001, minus the safety equipment required by law in other countries.

Posted by Neondragon on 05/31/2010 at 10:17 PM

If I go diving off the coast and find a sunken Spanish treasure ship, there are more regulations governing what I can do with it, how much of it I can keep, and how much I have to give to the state and federal governments, than if I dig a hole and strike oil. That's because sunken treasures are considered to be national historic treasures, while the oil in the ground belongs almost exclusively to whoever finds it.

Posted by Jeff on 06/01/2010 at 9:28 AM

The pressure that environmentalists put on oil companies is the same pressure the consumers of that oil should put on oil companies: if you are going to make your money by drilling the oil and selling it to consumers, you should make certain that you are able to protect the environment - both the environment that you are pumping it from and through - from either small leaks or gigantic catastrophes. According to reports, BP and the people involved in making sure the rigs pumping the oil are safe were not concerned with either situation, and 11 people died as a result.

The people to blame here are not the environmentalists for putting pressure on oil companies, thereby supposedly causing us to remain entrenched in Arab oil. The only people responsible for that are Americans. Car, truck, semi, SUV driving Americans. In short: you and me. Every time we turn the key to the vehicle we are driving to get to where we want to go right now (we're Americans, remember?) we are contributing to global warming and/or climate change. The only time things will ease up in the Middle East is when - after much change in technology and habits come about and the American driving public re-thinks its own driving and fuel habits - the price of oil drops to 10 cents a barrel because it is no longer needed or wanted. Blaming environmentalists for the problem when you contribute to it every time is going the very wrong direction. Want to know where the problem lies? Look in the mirror... the rearview mirror.

As a member of the public, I want "shit" like solar power and windmills. It is past time to have more of them, and - more importantly - to start thinking more about them and systems like them. Well past time, indeed. Our addiction to foreign oil must end and soon. I do not want to have fossil fuels running things. We can and should be doing better than "drill baby drill" at this or any point in our future. Oil's future is limited. Solar and wind is not.

Posted by kg4gke on 06/02/2010 at 11:38 AM

Our addiction to oil will end when it runs out. I'm stock piling sneakers just in case.

Posted by 38103 on 06/02/2010 at 2:00 PM
Showing 1-6 of 6

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