“Time for the Oil Business to “Do the Right Thing”
by Imogen Reed
Is it really two years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster began? For those in the region who saw their livelihoods in the fishing industry, tourism and as oil workers; those who saw their coastline, the pristine waters and the wildlife they had taken for granted, threatened with utter destruction; and mostly for those who lost their loved ones in the tragedy, it must seem much, much less. However, for the global oil business motivated by an insatiable appetite for profits, time passes much more quickly, and the drive for deep water exploration and exploitation is now going forward at an even faster pace than it was prior to the Gulf disaster.
Worrying in Any Language
It happened, they said sorry, helped clean up, reluctantly paid up, and now the message from the oil companies appears to be that everyone needs to move on. In the aftermath of the disaster, local people unaccustomed to using scientific jargon, soon learned what bio-diversity, eco-systems and sustainability actually meant. It meant less fish and marine wildlife, damaged feeding grounds, worries about important food sources, dead zones on the sea bed and on beaches, less opportunities for tourism, and a disruption of the lives they had previously enjoyed. Even in March this year, they have learned that scientists are worried the deteriorating health of coral beds and anomalous results from examination of immune system, lung and liver facts and functions in the Gulf’s dolphin population. For the people of the Gulf, the continuing impact of the spill, and worries that it could happen again, mean that it is far more difficult for them to move on in the same way.
Deeper & Deeper
Their concern is justified. French owned energy company Total are currently dealing with a massive gas leak at their Elgin platform in the North Sea. It has resulted in the imposition of a two mile exclusion zone for shipping in the area, extended to three miles for aircraft, and the company is estimating that resolving the issue may take several months. Only days before, BP was given the go ahead for its North Uist deep water operation off the Shetland Islands, and plans for the exploitation of huge deep water gas deposits, are in advanced development in the eastern Mediterranean and off the east African coast.
Closer to home, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is now even more widespread, and production will soon exceed levels before the Deep Horizon explosion. In May the state owned Mexican oil company Pemex is for the first time to put two platforms into deep water close to the maritime boundary with the US. Carlos A. Morales, chief of the Pemex exploration and production has said that “Pemex is ready to undertake the challenge and to do it safely,” and that the rigs will both be “sixth generation, which means they are the most modern. They have all the safety devices that rigs should have.” Gulf residents must feel that they have heard such assurances before, but Pemex are not alone. All the major oil companies are expanding their Gulf operations in not only American but also Cuban waters, and are seizing opportunities elsewhere.
Price & Security – Politics & Spin
Part of the reason the for the oil business to feel confident in expanding it deep drilling program, is that they are aware that there is growing concern about energy security and the price of oil. Newt Gingrich probably expressed that concern most succinctly when he said that, “The price of gasoline is becoming a genuine crisis for many American families”; but he is not alone in recognizing the political sensitivity of the issue with the electorate, with even President Obama boasting that “We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and approved more than 400 drilling permits since we put in place new safety standards in the wake of the gulf oil spill.” It is a political climate that the industry is happy to exploit and encourage, and are lobbying hard not only for further concessions, but also to blur the facts around recent history.
Doc Hastings, Republican Chairman of the controlled House Natural Resources Committee recently issued a subpoena to the Interior department, for documents relating to professional input into their report that recommended the initial deep water drilling moratorium. The aim is to show that support for the moratorium was not quite as universal as the report implied. Those who question the veracity of the DOI argue that their actions are motivated by the economic hardship the moratorium had on the Gulf region. However, the subtext is that undermining the report would label the moratorium as an overreaction to events, and infer that there is no inherent problem with practice of deep water drilling. According to the pen Secrets Organization the top four contributors to Doc Hastings’ Campaign Committee in 2011-12 were Edison Chouest Offshore, Exxon Mobil, Puget Holding Co and Chevron, and energy and natural resources companies contributed in excess of $100,000 to his PAC.
Realities, Risk & Honesty
In a recent article in the New York Times, Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice University energy program, was quoted as saying that, “We need the oil…The industry will have to improve and regulators will have to adjust, but the public will have to deal with the risk of drilling in deep waters or get out of their cars.” Gulf residents are as aware as every other American of the need for oil and gas, and indeed many of them make their living from involvement in the industry. They know that life is never risk free, but they also know that the Gulf region would not easily survive another environmental and economic disaster on the scale of Deepwater Horizon, and want the highest standards of safety to be imposed and maintained. If the oil business wants to build trust with those who live in proximity to their operations, they must re-establish a substantive record of competence in acting safely, responsibly, and transparently. Perhaps they would do better to devote their energies to that task rather than to spin, lobbying and politicking, because for those still living with consequences of the Gulf disaster, warm words, smoke and mirrors don’t wash any more.
Sources: Kansas City Star 04/03/12, New York Times 03/04/12, Voice of America 03/28/12, newsmax.com 04/03/12, bbc.co.uk 03/22/12, opensecrets.org, The Guardian 03/31/12, politic.com 04/03/12, sky.com 03/27/12, Daily Record 03/30/12