It's been three weeks and BP's crude still hemorrhages into the Gulf at over two hundred thousand gallons per day. Over the weekend an attempt to cap the fountain of oil with a containment dome failed and now a top hat, a similar approach, will be given a go. At this point however, it's hard to resist nonplus that BP clearly doesn't have a comprehensive failsafe plan to deal with oil spills.
Off-shore drilling began in 1891. BP was founded in 1909. BP is not NASA. We are not dealing with space where the environment is so unchartered and therefore unpredictable; it is impossible to excogitate all the variables. This is the ocean, which we have thorough scientific acquaintance with. Yet, when asked by a reporter why there wasn't something ready to go in the event of this kind of disaster, BP CEO, Tony Hayward replied, "This has never happened in 25 years of the industry." Now, if BP was in the nuclear energy business, which produces 15% of the world's power, such a response would be incomprehensible, cause for riots in the streets. However, such a response would be unlikely from a nuclear energy company. That heavily regulated industry is required to participate in four full-scale emergency response exercises each year.
In truth, the oil industry is taxed by the U.S. government to pay for the Oil & Hazardous Materials Simulated Environmental Test Tank (OHMSETT), which is run by The Interior Department, so the research and development has been done. What the Gulf Spill has made clear is the oil industry has not followed the think tank's findings with an adequate implementation phase.
Because we know so much about petroleum and and we know so much about sea water, and we live in a world post Exxon Valdez, it is mind-boggling that BP doesn't have an adequate spill containment and clean-up plan in place. "If anyone could afford to develop stellar failsafe equipment, it would be the oil industry that reports billions in profits every quarter," says ChemChamp CEO, Dennis Mount, whose company is a leader in solvent recycling and distillation equipment. "After drilling for oil beneath the ocean floor for nearly a century now, it's reasonable to assume the industry would have come up with something impressive like specially-fitted tankers that could pump the contaminated sea water in large quantities to refine later and even save the oil. This is an industry that has made advances in refining tar sands, a very costly and complex process of extracting bitumen from soil." Indeed, taking such progress in refining into account, BP's Spill Response Plan suggests protecting and preserving the environment, which ironically delivers its profits, is not yet a priority of the oil industry.
Accidents happen. However, getting parsimonious on a $500,000 safety valve, burning the oil, relying on local fisherman to literally bail out the spill, ineffective containment caps and buying up a third of the world's chemical dispersants to further pollute the ocean, is not the response one expects from such an advanced and well-funded industry in 2010--that is, if said industry truly believes in climate change and the adverse effects of polluting the ocean. However, such negligence makes sense if BP is in actuality firmly planted on the side of climate change deniers, like Cheney and Limbaugh. To a company that denies man's carbon footprint could alter the natural course of an atmosphere and environment so vast and expansive as the Earth's, an investment in a comprehensive failsafe plan would be a waste of money on public relations to placate a public that has been riled up by "climate-change exaggerators."
This is the clarification we can only hope BP and the rest of the oil industry is required to make before Congress someday in the near future. Because that information is vital to regulating the oil industry going forward and if anything is more clear today than it was on April 20, 2010, it's that the oil industry needs serious regulation.