(Two updates added below.)
I'm sitting here at my desk watching the oil droids hack away at the blowout preventer in preparation for the "cap" portion of the "cut and cap" procedure, which, contrary to what I'm hearing on cable news, is intended to do something other than stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, this latest solution isn't a solution for stopping the flow of oil at all. The oil will continue to gush from the well, only now BP will be able to more effectively harvest some of the oil -- a more reliable version of what they were doing with the riser insertion tube for the better part of last month.
Good for them. So they can resume drinking their milkshake between now and August when, we hope, the relief well will be completed. At which time, corporate milkshake drinking will carry on via more conventional methods.
And why not? It's the free market after all. As I watch these robots slice the riser from the blowout preventer and read the news about lakes of oil moving towards the coasts of Florida, I'm wondering who to blame for this. The list is long, but, in part, I blame anyone who bought into the lines: "government is the problem" and "the era of big government is over." It's been systematic deregulation and the elevation of free market libertarian laissez-faire capitalism that have wrought this damage and allowed potentially destructive corporations to write their own rules and do as they please.
Does anyone seriously believe that BP has suddenly become a philanthropic venture interested in doing whatever it takes -- sparing no expense -- to make the Gulf region whole again? It will do the absolute minimum necessary to weasel its way through this crisis. Not a red cent more.
Last week, while the "top kill" procedure was failing, BP continued its effort to fight regulations in Canada mandating relief wells for every offshore rig. Simultaneously, Rayola Dougher, a lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute laughed off the notion of requiring relief wells here in America.
Dougher said on MSNBC, "That would be -- that would really make it unviable [sic]. I couldn't even imagine such a suggestion." A relief well costs around $100 million. That would cut into revenues and so -- nope.
This is one of many reasons why Robert Reich's plan makes sense at this point. Temporary receivership. Despite the political peril involved in such an endeavor, the government should take over BP, its manpower and assets, and eliminate the corporate revenue motive from the capping and cleanup process. BP has proved itself incapable of tackling this job with the best interests of Gulf coast livelihoods and the marine environment in mind, and so they ought to lose their privileges to operate in the Gulf of Mexico for a while.
After all, the nature of any corporation is to mitigate losses and increase revenues. Keep the shareholders as happy as possible, spend the least amount of money necessary, hire the best lawyers to avoid paying punitive fines and get back to drilling and selling oil for profit. This is what corporations do.
So it comes as no surprise that the only achievements since the rig explosion have involved releasing a syllabus of weasely remarks designed to ameliorate any damage to the BP brand, and literally harvesting oil from the riser.
At the peak of the riser insertion tube's efficacy, BP was successfully harvesting around 200,000 gallons of oil per day with a total capacity to process around 15,000 barrels per day. That's a lot of milkshake drinking in the middle of an unprecedented oil spill. And so BP will probably do what they always do. Refine and sell those barrels for a profit. And once the relief wells are completed, they'll do the same.
Regardless of Justice Department investigations or lawsuits or cleanup costs, BP will emerge from this disaster and continue to profit from the drilling and selling of petroleum, including the oil from Macondo prospect.
Exxon, as precedent, is now Exxon-Mobil and is doing just fine. It endlessly appealed the fines imposed as the result of Valdez oil spill and whittled the down the cost of the disaster to corporate pocket change, and whatever money they paid out was covered by insurance policies.
Read that again. Exxon almost entirely escaped financial damages from the Valdez. In fact, it spent most of the last 21 years appealing its financial liability related to the Prince William Sound disaster. Why? Mitigating losses, and increasing revenues. There's no reason or evidence to believe that BP will be any different, lest anyone think they're in this to take full responsibility and do whatever it takes to repair the Gulf waters and its coastline.
Predictably, BP has lied or misrepresented the truth all along the way.
- Before a drop of oil was spilled, they deliberately refused to invest in crucial failsafe mechanisms to prevent this sort of tragedy in the first place.
- Following the rig explosion, they detained workers who witnessed the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
- They attempted to distribute ridiculously small settlement offers.
- They consistently low-balled the estimated volume of oil leaking from the riser and blowout preventer, arguably to avoid harsher liability.
- They brazenly refused to stop using Corexit despite evidence that it was more toxic than other chemical dispersants.
- BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, tried to tell us that the environmental damage will be "very, very modest."
- They ordered federal Coast Guard officers to shoo the press away from tar-balled beaches.
- They're preventing other reporters from photographing dead animals.
- This week, they not only denied the existence of massive underwater plumes of dispersed oil, but, on top of it all, they've hired Dick Cheney's former press secretary to run their PR efforts. Any minute now, I'm half expecting to hear that the oil spill is in its "last throes."
Are we to believe that this is a corporation acting responsibly and with the best interests of the Gulf in mind? Not a chance in hell. This is a spoiled, petulant and entitled corporation operating in a largely deregulated free market atmosphere, and BP is so arrogant that it expects this atmosphere to carry it through this thing.
Simultaneously, most of the small businesses along the Gulf coast, which have nothing to do with the oil industry, have been crushed. Someone explain to those people how they shouldn't sweat it -- their businesses are just small sacrifices in the grander scheme of unregulated capitalism on the march. Clear the way, Mr. Gump with your shrimp boat, the free market has to drill, baby, drill. Didn't you hear? The "era of big government" ended back in the 1990s. You obviously didn't get the message, so, you know, buh-bye.
Forty years of corporate deregulation by conservative Republican Ayn Rand fetishists (and their Democratic enablers) have successfully poisoned the Gulf of Mexico. Ironically, the most liberal pro-regulation president in this same span of time -- the president who has announced on several occasions a significant break from Reagan's "government is the problem" mantra -- appears to be the only politician being blamed for this so far. One of many reasons why I fear it'll be another 40 years before we roll back this free market monster.
And, as I watch this video, the solution occurs to me: they should just plug the oil leak with every single existing copy of Atlas Shrugged.
UPDATE: I can't believe I have to do this, but for the record, I'm not opposed to capitalism. I'm opposed to deregulated, laissez-faire, irresponsible capitalism. The mini-McCarthys in the comments are clearly incapable of, you know, reading.
UPDATE 2: Robert Reich reports:
A petroleum engineer who's worked in the oil industry tells me BP is doing the minimum to clean up the oil and everything it can to protect its bottom line. According to the engineer, here's what BP should be doing right now to mitigate the damage.
I rest my case.