UPDATE (10:27 EST): New reports coming out that Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of MMS, has been fired. Incompetence or politics?
UPDATE (10:10 EST): Very promising news! Looks like the top kill worked. We should know by the end of the day for sure.
Although I’ve tapped out of almost all American pop culture, aside from the pieces I pick up on Twitter, I do follow the news fairly closely here in Argentina. Particularly, I’ve been watching (with great dismay) the oil spill story.
Tomorrow BP is attempting the “top kill” maneuver — pumping mud into the well. If it doesn’t work, well … then what? Junk shot? Top hat? Loony stuff like nukes? Relief wells will take months to drill and no one’s sure if they’ll work to relieve pressure. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that we’re going to be stuck helplessly watching as this well spews oil into the Gulf for years. Even if the flow were stopped tomorrow, the damage to marshes, coral, and marine life is done. The Gulf of Mexico will become an ecological and economic dead zone. There’s no real way to undo it, no matter who’s in charge.
I’m curious to see how the public’s mood shifts once it becomes clear that we are powerless in the face of this thing. What if there’s just nothing we can do? That’s not a feeling to which Americans are accustomed.
No, it’s not. Even considering the idea that we won’t find a solution is difficult. But it’s a real – and scary – possibility. And in tomorrow’s NYT, there’s this:
Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.
But the regulations that might have prevented such decisions or perhaps have averted the fact that “the science of cleaning up oil spills has remained largely the same since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster” (CNN) were never made. And now we have a catastrophic environmental disaster on our hands that we can’t stop or clean up because there were no financial incentives for figuring out better ways to stop leaks.
In fact, the government division, Mineral Management Service, that polices offshore drilling has been a total failure. Kate Sheppard reports in Mother Jones:
During [the George W. Bush] era, Interior became a revolving door haven for industry lobbyists. MMS developed a hands-off approach to regulation and was known for its deference to the companies it was supposed to be policing.
And so here we are with oil gushing into the gulf and our fingers crossed that we can stop the leak. I hope we can. But it seems that with years of drilling innovations we should have also had years of safety innovations. Instead we’re pumping mud into the hole. Let’s pray it works.
Photo via Flickr user nasa1fan/MSFC (CC).