BP's disastrous blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to wreak vast and long-lasting damage to the environmentally sensitive bayous of the Louisiana coast and to fisheries as far north as Florida. Yet the most stunningly obvious facts go unmentioned in mainstream media.
Beyond the incalculable costs of the despoliation to the ecology of the region, the damage measurable in dollars is immense. About one-fifth of U.S. seafood comes from the Gulf. Most shrimp will now have to be imported from China and Vietnam. The oil vomiting from the sea-bottom, estimated at 210,000 gallons per day, is putting thousands of commercial and sports fishermen out of business. The impact will almost certainly dwarf that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe.
Yet BP's profits are up -- 135% this quarter -- despite a history of preventable mistakes, from the U.S. refinery explosion in 2005 to the spills on Prudoe Bay in 2006 and 2007. The fine levied against BP in 2009 for safety violations was the largest in the history of OSHA., but it was a mere fly-speck on the company's balance sheet. Such fines are simply a cost of doing business.
Oddest of all, few commentators have pointed out the obvious fact that sits before us like an oil-besmirched elephant in the living room: BP is a huge British company, headquartered in London; it's the third largest global energy company in the world.
If ever we needed a wake-up call to puncture the myth that off-shore drilling in some way advances the cause of American "energy independence," this disaster makes one thing crystal clear. Off-shore drilling is simply lining the coffers of international corporations like BP and Exxon-Mobil, whose only allegiance is to profit.
Last March, the Obama administration proposed opening vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, ended a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean. According to John M. Broder, writing for the New York Times:
The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation...
But while Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters -- supporting nuclear power, for example -- the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback.
President Obama's energy initiatives are akin to President Richard Nixon's opening up relations with China, a feat no Democratic president could have gotten away with. In aggressively pursuing off-shore drilling and a revival of the nuclear industry, Obama seeks to achieve what the Bush administration, famously in bed with the oil industry, did not dare propose.
Bold steps are needed, to be sure. The U.S. imports 12 million barrels of oil a day, about a third of its needs. But the Obama administration needs to make credible efforts in the field of solar and wind energy, in energy conservation, and far-reaching policies that fosters innovations as creative as those that once animated NASA.
The BP disaster makes it clear that corporate greenwashing can't mask the fundamental error in direction. "Business as usual" is as destructive as it is short-sighted.