Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BP's Deja Vu Squared

Ever tried to relax by watching a movie, only to find it was a terrible copy of one that you'd seen before?

Ever had to handle a problem caused by someone else?

Ever had to subsidize costs incurred by a corporation's greed and negligence?

Ever been annoyed at the reticence of our elected government to properly regulate and monitor potentially dangerous industries?

Ever been seriously aggrieved at the unnecessary harming of defence-less wildlife, plants and ecosystems?

Ever been mad as hell about the ruinous loss of lives, jobs, commerce and livelihoods?

Ever been stuck with an unwanted, pernicious legacy that keeps on giving?

Ever been fed up with people who mindlessly repeat the mantra 'drill baby, drill'?

Ever wished we were further along in our collective 12-step course to wean ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction?

Ever worried that one day we -or- our children won't be able to enjoy a visit to the beach?

I suspect many people may have experienced one or more of these feelings before now.

And, if not, they are more likely to now, after BP's latest catastrophe.

As shocked and aggravated as we may be, there is no simple solution to either fixing the current egregious problem, nor preventing a reoccurrence sometime in the future.

Instead, we ought to use the public concern and anger and redirect it in intelligent ways.

That way -as with the Olympic Pipe Line explosion- we can at least use the energy as positive momentum to improve.

Watching the news for the past 36 days or so, has helped document both the initial horror and the growing criticism of the lack of effective action by either BP or the US government.

Many are even comparing the BP blow-out and subsequent enormous crude oil spill to Hurricane Katrina.
Although the aftermath of both events were terribly destructive, the fact remains that one was naturally occurring and the other caused by compounded human error.

Although more comprehensive contingency planning may have partially prevented or mitigated the effects of both events, is it likely to expect that level of preparedness - particularly considering their enormity?

In the case of Katrina, there was plenty of blame to go around, notwithstanding we have little or no control over major weather events.
Of course, siting and building the City of New Orleans on ground that is well below sea level was never smart.
And, not having an adequate evacuation plan in place did not help, regardless of whether this oversight is the responsibility the City, the State of Louisiana, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA or some combination of the above.

In the case of BP's catastrophe, the lack of adequate government readiness, at any level, is also evident.
But, the significant difference in this case is the role played by BP, the [ultimate] owner, operator and chief beneficiary of the oil production that has now become such a big problem.

Doesn't it seem reasonable for BP to accept full responsibility for this problem?
What exactly would that entail?
Can we even approximate these total costS?
Is it realistic to expect even a major corporation like BP to compensate for what must amount to billions per year for an unknown number of years?

What role should the government play?
How much should the government pay?
Would this amount to another government bailout?
Would Congress authorize another such expense?
Would a bipartisan approach be possible?
What would be the solution offered by those who would rather shrink 'guvmint' and allow a 'free enterprise' approach?
Just some food for thought.

Here's a few ideas to consider:

• First priority is to stop the leak

• Next, recover as much oil from the Gulf as possible BEFORE it reaches coastlines

• Get the Administration more actively involved, especially if BP's plans repeatedly fail.
Here, it is important NOT to set a precedent of government intervention that others might expect in the future

• Get Congress working on regulations that are more stringent, including much higher liability limits, higher safety standards, better MMS oversight, requirements for relief wells and blow-out prevention devices to be installed and checked BEFORE oil production is allowed.

• Consider additional taxes on crude production to fund an emergency reserve to be used for similar offshore disasters

There are likely other approaches worthy of consideration.
Whatever is decided, this type of incident should be subject to certain, more severe punishment in the future.

Like the tragic Olympic Pipe Line catastrophe, we have the opportunity to greatly improve regulations, operation procedures and contingency planning for the future.
While crude oil will be essential for years to come, it is important to begin to more closely align its price with the true, total cost of its production and use.

Sometimes, it takes a disaster like this to get our attention, so that lasting lessons can be learned.
Just maybe, it will focus us more clearly on the growing need for energy conservation and wider development of alternate energy sources and strategies.

Let's hope so.