Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Slick Politics


British Petroleum had a fail-safe system for it’s Deepwater Horizon floating deep-water drilling rig.

You know, the one that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a tangled spaghetti pile of 22-inch steel pipe one mile long all balled up on the sea floor a mile below the surface, and that is leaking oil at 42,000 gallons per day…so far.

The thing is, the fail-safe system, about the size of a McMansion sitting at the wellhead on the ocean floor, um, failed. It didn’t collapse and shut off the flow of oil as intended, and it could take months now to shut the well down–during which time the leak rate is likely to increase to up to 300,000 gallons per day, or over two million gallons a week.

President Obama claimed last month that off-shore drilling technology had become so advanced that oil spills and blowouts were a thing of the past. Of course, as he said this, Australia and Indonesia were still assessing the damage from a similar offshore oil platform, the Montana, in the Timor Sea, which blew out and poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean off Western Australia for over three months before it could be sealed off.

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Given that this is true, particular of complex technological enterprises, the question that needs to be asked is not, what is the probability of a catastrophic failure of an offshore well, but what is the potential damage in the event of even one such catastrophe for the local environment?

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the potential damage if this well really blows is staggering. Just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it poses a near fatal risk to the region’s wetlands and bayous, with their shrimp and oyster fisheries, not to mention the breeding grounds they provide for endangered birds, fish and other animals.

But the real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon is what it means for expanded drilling in the Arctic waters north of Alaska.

Oil companies, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and others, like Goldman traders looking at a tranch of subprime mortgages, are casting covetous eyes on the Arctic Ocean and the oil and gas that studies suggest lie under the virgin sea floor. Their plan is to drill for these hydrocarbons once the summer sea ice vanishes as a result of rising global temperatures (more about this in a future article).

Obama, as part of his opening of more coastal areas to drilling, is including areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which are already ice free during summer.

But let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose there were a blowout like the one in the Gulf of Mexico at a rig drilling in the Arctic? Suppose it happened towards the end of the short summer, when the ice was about to return to cover the ocean surface? If it was a blowout that couldn’t be plugged, like the Montana blowout in the Timor Sea, or if the fail-safe system at the wellhead failed, as with the Deepwater Horizon, and if the only solution was, as with the Montana well, to drill new wells to ease the pressure on the blown well, how would this be done, once the ice moved in?

Answer? It couldn’t be done. Murphy’s Law again. And so millions of gallons of crude oil would rise up out of the burst wellhead to spread out underneath the ice, whence it would eventually move on to destroy hundreds of miles of fragile coastline, probably killing untold numbers of species that live in the affected waters. The damage from such a completely predictable disaster wouldn’t just be staggering, like the Montana or the Deepwater Horizon blowouts, but incomprehensible!

So why are we even talking about this?

The argument, made ad nauseum by Republicans and Democrats alike, is that the US needs more energy, and that we don’t want to be dependent for our oil on “countries that hate us.”

And yet, there is a much simpler answer than hanging a hydrocarbon Sword of Damocles over our nation’s critical coastal areas. Just copy Europe and impose a 100% tax on gas and oil, to make people turn away from 15 or 20 or 25-mile-per-gallon vehicles and start driving fuel-efficient cars, car-pooling or forgoing cars altogether.

Even better, tax the crap out of cars that don’t get at least 35 or even 40 mpg.

Oh, I know. People will say, “but poor people in rural areas or in the suburbs can’t pay those rates for gas to get to work, and they have to buy used cars that don’t get such high mileage rates.”

I understand the problem, but it is solvable, by establishing refundable tax credits for low-income people who can document long commuting distances, for example.

The main point is that the country doesn’t need to drill in risky settings. It needs only to cut oil consumption.

What’s clear is that drilling in the open ocean is simply disaster after disaster waiting to happen.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?
David Swanson
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Less Than Two Weeks
Victor Grossman
Suicides and Hopes and Fears
October 19, 2016
Dan Schiller – Shinjoung Yeo
The Silicon Valley Candidate
Mike Whitney
Trump Unchained
Paul Buhle
Criminalizing the Struggle: Incarceration and the Rise of the Neoliberal State
Linn Washington Jr.
Abusing the Abused: Philly Police Abuse Case Typifies All-Too-Common Misconduct by US Prosecutors
Terry Tempest Williams - Brooke Williams
Rejected by the BLM
Binoy Kampmark
Neither War Nor Peace: Shimon Peres, Israel and History
Patrick Cockburn
This Battle for Mosul Will Not Be the Last
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau Bullying on Trade Deal
Thomas Mountain
Revolutionary Islam and Regime Change in Ethiopia
Serge Halimi – Benoît Bréville
The Limits of Eloquence: the Failures of Barack Obama
Mel Gurtov
America’s Dangerous Moment
Jerry Kroth
Questions for Obama Before Leaving Office
Michael Garrity
America is a Nation of Laws: Collaboration and Its Discontents
October 18, 2016
Srećko Horvat
The Cyber-War on Wikileaks
Zoltan Grossman
Stop the Next President From Waging the Next War
Jim Kavanagh
Hillary’s Hide-and-Seek
Robert Fisk
After Mosul Falls, ISIS will Flee to Syria. Then What?
Ted Rall
The 4 Things Hillary Could Do To Close the Deal Against Trump
Pepe Escobar
Why Hillary Clinton is a Bigger Concern for China than Donald Trump
Colin Todhunter
World Wide Fund for Nature: Stop Greenwashing Capitalism, Start Holding Corporations to Account
David Macaray
Whiskey Workers Go on Strike: I’ll Drink to That
James A Haught
After the Election, Back to Important Things
Arturo Desimone
How a Selective Boycott Can Boost External Support for Palestinians
Russell Mokhiber
If Chris Wallace Asks About Street Crime He Should Also Ask About Corporate Crime
Mark Kernan
Moloch in Paris: on the Anniversary of COP21
Carol Dansereau
The Hillary Push: Manipulation You Can Believe In
Andre Vltchek
Will They Really Try to Kill the President of the Philippines?
Sean Joseph Clancy
The Wreckage of Matthew: Cuba and Haiti
October 17, 2016
Paul Street
Pick Your Poison? Presidential Politics and Planetary Prospects
Patrick Cockburn
US Allies are Funding ISIS (and Hillary Knew All Along)
David Swanson
What Hillary Clinton Privately Told Goldman Sachs
Fran Shor
A Rigged System?