Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Down the Shore Everything's All Wrong



From the southern tip of Florida to Brownsville, TX, the American portion of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico extends for 1,631 miles. The Gulf itself is approximately 615,000 square miles; as 2006, 3,858 oil rigs crowded the coastline between Texas and Alabama, with the vast majority clustered off the Louisiana coast:

Source: Wikipedia article "Oil Platform"

The crow-flies length of the Gulf Coast is deceptive. It's actually made up of 17,141 miles of tidal shoreline formed by islands, inlets, river mouths, deltas, bayous, and swamps. For an idea of its extent, assume that the spill reaches the entire shoreline except for the 3,359 miles of the Texas coast, which so far has escaped damage. Should BP America reassign its entire workforce of 33,000 to cleanup duties, it would deploy one person for every 2,205 feet of shoreline.

Of course, the spill will not strike so evenly. It will spare some of the shoreline, cause relatively reparable damage to some areas, and devastate still others. Since, as Rachel Maddow reported last night, cleanup equipment is as aging and lo-tech as drilling equipment is modern and hi-tech, the cleanup work will be a long, twilight struggle of manual labor supported by coordinators, managers, directors, administrators, wildlife rescuers, climatologists, ecologists, logistics experts, and support personnel. In other words, BP America could throw everyone it had at this and not have enough people or the expertise.

Plus, BP is already too busy shopping for Reagan-appointed judges and buying up internet search terms to give full attention to cleaning up the biggest environmental catastrophe in history, even if it does have responsibility for that.

I've been skeptical of the government taking direct control of stopping the leak. I figured that the game was up when the first attempt to stop the leak failed, and saw no point in taking over at quarterback when the team trailed 49-0 late in the game and the fans still expected victory. But now the game is shifting to the government's strong suit: It alone can amass the expertise and sheer numbers of people to conduct the cleanup.

Which doesn't mean that the cleanup will happen in a day or that there won't be complaints about the pace and priorities. But the task is massive: There are hundreds and and likely thousands of miles of affected areas. The vastness of it means that any cleanup will take time, will not please everyone, and will mean mistakes as well as successes.

But this is a real-life calamity, not a Hollywood movie. Damage will occur and most of it is inescapable. Prepare yourself for more images of oil-sodden pelicans, fishermen who have lost their livelihood, people angry that no one is doing anything, and mistakes made during cleanup. These are inevitable no matter who is charge or what they are doing...

Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich argues that the government should put BP's North American operations into temporary receivership and take them over. Reich's rationale -- that the government would get better information -- is thin, but his conclusion has merit. By taking over at this point -- as the emphasis switches to cleanup -- the government would take over cleanup directly and  ensure that cleanup was the top priority of the company, direct a swifter and fairer processing of claims, and stop practices like judge shopping and buying internet search terms...

John Nichols reviews today's primaries...

She-Lawyers and other improbable creatures...

This post is about dependency and choices...

R. I. P., Impossible Dream team member Jerry Stephenson...

4 comments:

Roy said...

I think you and Robert Reich are on to something - government takeover of BP during the clean-up phase might actually guarantee bearable (and non-propaganda) results. I don't trust BP to do it under their own aegis.

I'm getting lots of musical treats today - Willow had Steeleye Span, and now here you go with Tom Waits. Ahhhh!

tnlib said...

I'm not sure I agree with taking over BP before the cleanup begins. Even then I kind of like TomCat's idea on Politics Plus. Form something like the CCC of the FDR era. Unemployed people would be put to work which would boost the economy throughout the Gulf Coast. And, as he suggests, BP has to pay for it.

Renegade Eye said...

Offshore drilling in Norway is nationalized, and free from the danger of such an incident, due to the best and latest safety equipment.

K. said...

The advantage to a takeover is that it wouldn't (I don't think) require congressional approval. Obama can declare a state of emergency and act accordingly. Although I'd sure like to get approval in the form of a resolution: Make the Republicans either close ranks in bipartisan fashion or oppose it and deny that there's an emergency.

Ren, that's the way it should be. I'm not holding my breath, though. We don't have an energy policy of any kind at all, other than deregulate everything and invade Iraq.