May 6, 2010
The ongoing, disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is instructive in many ways. For those interested in energy production, it seems to signal that the shift from shallow-water oil drilling may not be as manageable as has been thought. This is important because the United States seems to be making it impossible to extract fuel from Americas vast land resources while shoving its production into far more environmentally dangerous locations.
If it is clear that British Petroleum and Transocean were not prepared for a calamity of this type, it is also clear that the federal government was completely unprepared for it. BP and Transocean dont have naval or coast guard fleets. Maybe some of that utterly wasted stimulus money could have been spent on purchasing the equipment needed need to contain a 50-year oil spill. Unfortunately, that is not how government operates.
I am amazed to read about the technology involved in the drilling. The wells ground surface is 5,000 below sea level about a mile. And the drill shaft, as I understand it, was at least two miles further down. I have heard pressures being talked about of 30-40,000 pounds per square inch. Today a submersible robot went to sea bed and stopped one of the three leaks by installing a valve and a broken pipe. Astonishing. Astonishing that we could actually expect this to work reliably, but that is the genius of capitalism. Such things do work reliably.
Whatever the causes of the disaster it seems inconceivable to me that the companies involved are not doing everything humanly possible to stop the flow of oil. They would be doing so just to minimize financial losses, but I am sure that the pride of an industry is at stake here as well. Just plain decency is at stake. Over ten men have died. The local fishing industry is threatened. Every conceivable effort is required.
Yet, last week our Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, saw fit to make this comment about the crisis, Our job basically is to keep the boot on the neck of BP to carry out the responsibilities they have both under the law and contractually to move forward and stop this spill. Really? When did I die and wake up in Hugo Chavezs Venezuela or Castros Cuba? What American public officials have talked like this in the past? Who other than some grotesque, cowboy-hat wearing demagogue would try to score political points off this enormous human tragedy?
I was stunned by this remark and was wondering if I had heard it wrong. Well, I hadnt. Thanks to Tony Blankley, formerly a top editor at the Washington Times, for confirming it and writing a terrific column on Salazars thuggishness. Here are several worthwhile paragraphs of Blankleys that contain a fantastically appropriate historical reference:
Within three days, BPs status had shifted from being a partner with the government to having its neck pinned to the ground by a federal government boot. As I write this column, Mr. Salazar has not yet come out to rephrase his indelicate words. But I cant imagine that the public relations boys and girls in the White House backroom like the image of their administration placing its boot on anyones neck. (At least I hope they don't like that image.) The image of governmental boots have an unfortunate history.
The most famous image is, of course, George Orwells:
But always - do not forget this, Winston - always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling forever on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever. (1984, Part III, Chapter III).
Poor Mr. Salazar. He tried a little too hard to be a good political soldier. I have met him a couple of times, and he seems like a decent, pleasant soul. But my guess is that his boot on the neck line will be the only words that history will recall from the gentleman.
Fascinating that we learned today from a blog post by Jake Tapper at ABC News that the chief of staff of the Department of the Interior the guy who runs things for Boot Boy Salazar took a vacation in the Grand Canyon last week. According to Tapper, Tom Strickland vacationed in Arizona with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting.... Tapper also notes, The Stricklands departed for the Grand Canyon three days after the leaks in the Deepwater Horizon pipeline were discovered. In other words, well after it was clear that a major commercial-economic disaster was unfolding in the Gulf Strickland went on his trip.
No doubt it was paid for by we-the-taxpayer because it was work-focused. Rafting usually is work-focused, and I bet the chief of staff of the Department of the Interior gets a pretty sweet tour of the Grand Canyon. Sounds like a lot more fun than looking for spill-fighting equipment.
Perhaps, Boot Boy should remove his footwear from BPs neck and direct it toward members of his staff like some of those folks who failed to prepare for this disaster and the one who went rafting while the Gulf of Mexico was filling with oil.