Calhouns Can(n)ons for June 11, 2010
When I first heard about the Gulf oil spill I was concerned, then alarmed. But after a while, the media started bombarding us with stories about all the Lessons We Have Learned since the blowout started. So I figured I’d better pay close attention in case I needed to learn something new and important.
We were told the only real fail-safe way to shut this well-head down was to drill a second relief well, which will take months. But then, we already learned that lesson some 30 years ago when the Xxtoc exploratory well blew and spewed about 420,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf until it could be capped months later. After that disaster a few countries (but, clearly, not America) learned the lesson and required all offshore deep wells to have a relief well drilled simultaneously with the main well. That way if something goes wrong at the head, relief is just a valve-turn away. But America decided years ago that that lesson wasn’t important and could be ignored.
Then we were told that we shouldn’t worry, that the President had his “boot on the neck of BP” and would make sure they paid for everything and made all the communities damaged by this spill “whole again.” Of course, we were given that lesson way back 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska and spilled 10.9 million gallons of crude all over the place.
Claiming that they would make Alaskan waters “whole,” Exxon’s lawyers really just fought that case in court for years and years while sympathetic judges kept cutting the awards down to slivers and by the time the real lesson was on display – privatize all profits, get Congress to “cap” liabilities and then stick as many of those liabilities as possible onto the taxpayer, and count on dragged-out litigation to whittle judgments and fines down to pennies on the dollar – Americans had forgotten the original incident and it’s final outcome. So, that lesson was an old one and had already been dismissed.
Pretty soon, as the present spill continued to roll on unabated, we were told that one key lesson we were learning here was that BP had a long slipshod record of repeated disasters, from the Alaska pipeline leaks to explosions in refineries, all caused by what EPA special agent Scott West called “ . . . a corporate philosophy that it was cheaper to operate to failure and then deal with the problem later rather than do preventive maintenance.” This record was loaded with lessons available for learning over the years, but, once again, the American public, Congress, and government agencies headed by ex-oilmen and Presidential cronies didn’t think they were useful lessons and so BP ended up with lots of drilling contracts and is now one of the biggest suppliers to the Pentagon to fuel its various wars. No new lessons there.
As Newsweek reported, in 2006 the EPA and the Justice Department decided to briefly learn a lesson from the “two massive BP oil leaks in Alaska caused by corroded pipelines,” and when they proceeded to try to take corrective action – which is what “learning lessons” should be all about – they were told to shut their case down, take a quick, cheap plea and just continue business as usual. When Jeanne Pascal, a lawyer in the EPA’s Seattle office, pushed for BP’s debarment from government contracts, she learned a valuable lesson: “When a major economic and political giant . . . tells you it has direct access to the White House, it’s very intimidating.”
But heck, that lesson is an old one that the American people didn’t think was worth learning in the first place. They’re fine with not understanding that when government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Oil Industry, the oil industry will simply do what they like and the American people will cover all costs and suffer all the damages. Hiding oil’s true cost so they can continue to see fake “cheap” prices at the pump is just fine with Americans.
Which means all our present media hype about “learning lessons” from this spill is just more hokum. Americans know all the lessons and have dismissed them all. This present spill will be no different. Congress will make a political dumb-show of faux gruffness, the courts will stick it to a few low-level officials, and BP will count on careful PR and -- thanks to Justice Robert’s Supreme Court -- unlimited corporate political contributions to erase everything from our collective memory in only a few months. Then it’s back to business as usual. No need for corrective rules and profit-reducing regulations; let the market take care of itself.
And for BP, that means about $17 billion in profits a year. So that’s a huge relief! Now we can stop watching news that’s filled with boring “lessons” that we have no intention of learning, pictures of dead pelicans, and interviews with whiny fishermen – boo-hoo, waah-waah -- and can once again relax and go back to watching our favorite TV show: “America: The Biggest Loser.”