Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 22, 2010

Editorial: Oil spill exposes lack of federal oversight


---- — According to recent news reports you can walk the shore of Alaska's Prince William Sound and, with just a bit of scraping around with your boot, unearth rocks still coated with oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. More than 21 years later.

Welcome to Louisiana — and maybe Mississippi and Florida — in 2035, or even 2050.

The Valdez spill, in which at least 10.8 million gallons of oil were lost after the tanker hit a reef, was at the time the largest oil spill in history.

On April 20 of this year an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men, destroyed the rig and sent oil gushing into the Gulf from a ruptured wellhead more than 5,000 feet down.

By May 8 or 9 it was estimated the Deepwater Horizon spill had already surpassed the Exxon Valdez. Since then, the Deepwater wellhead has been spewing an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf every day. While there has been some slight success in siphoning off the oil, it continues to gush.

Day after day after day.

So far, British Petroleum, which leased Deepwater Horizon, has had more luck with spin than plugging the leak. Early on, the oil giant downplayed (re: lied about) the amount of crude pouring into the Gulf. Then it was a blame game between BP, Transocean (the firm that actually owns the rig) and Halliburton (ex-veep Dick Cheney's former company).

Eventually, with help from a host of Republican lawmakers and media jawboners the spin came all the way around. Somehow, they said, it was President Obama's fault and to top it off, he hadn't fixed it yet. What, with his flippers and a mask? Very strange.

We got here as we so often do. In the Jack Abramoff scandal federal employees were paid off with booze, sports tickets and golf excursions. Now we hear that the federal Minerals Management Service — which is supposed to monitor and inspect oil rigs — was run like a non-stop fraternity party, with BP and other firms playing sugar daddy.

The last two presidents of the National Oceans Industries Association, charged with securing "reliable access and a favorable regulatory and economic environment" for the oil industry, just happen to be the last two directors of the MMS.

And never forget Cheney's closed-door meetings early in the George W. Bush administration, during which many of the policies that led to the widespread deregulation of the oil industry were decided.

So here we are.

The Republicans keep blaming Obama — the latest is that the $20 billion fund BP set up to compensate oil spill victims is a "Chicago-style" shakedown of long-suffering BP.

The toll to the environment and wildlife continues to mount, as it likely will for the next 30 years or more.

And the oil keeps spewing.