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From "Top Hat" to "Top Kill"

Stage Managing a Catastrophe in the Gulf

by ALAN FARAGO

From the very first, the Gulf Oil Spill has been about "managing expectations". Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry used exactly that term in an early televised press conference about "Top Hat", the first failed intervention to stop tens of millions of gallons of oil from leaking into the Gulf. "Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry cautioned about high expections for the containment system. ‘So, please, I have to manage your expectations and just understand that our job is not done until this well is sealed, until this well is cemented, our job is not done ’til then.’" (Crews prepare to take contraption to Gulf oil leak, AP, May 5, 2010)

But the way she said "I have to manage your expectations" was as though she inadvertently blurted stage notes in parentheses on her script.

The managing of expectations continues: from understated oil spill volumes to BP’s CEO telling the media that next week’s attempt to infuse the runaway well with heavy fluids, "Top Kill", also may not work. "Mr. Hayward said that an effort by BP to cap the well using heavy drilling fluids, a process known as "top kill" that’s due to be implemented early next week, "would be another first for this technology at these water depths and so, we cannot take its success for granted." (WSJ, May 22, 2010) After the fact, caution is cheap as dirt.

What else could he say, or, the federal government do now that the worst environmental disaster in US history is seeping onto pristine beaches, into mangroves, and nurseries?

When deep shore exploration technology was put into practice, why weren’t preventive measures also put in place after thorough testing at depth and under conditions of pressure at the ocean floor?

Like many of you, I wonder: how could deep offshore oil exploration be permitted by the federal government without any protocols or technologies or systems management for killing a blowout, a mile beneath the surface. Without proven contingency plans for emergencies when blow-out preventers fail, this form of drilling should never be permitted. "Accidents happen", explained Tea Party candidate for US Senate Rand Paul. The biggest accident is that American democracy ever made room for such idiocy.

I hope "Top Kill" works. I cannot abide more months passing before the next "first": a reliever well to a blow-out a mile below the surface of the Gulf. I can’t stand the thought of hurricanes blowing up and listening to TV weather forecasters ginning up ratings as the storms track into the Gulf of Mexico. The haywire experiment to stop the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico will outlast our lifetimes in terms of long-term environmental impact to coastal wetlands, estuaries and bays, and economies that depend on tourism and fisheries.

Louisiana is vanishing; its coastal zones will be marine deserts now matter how much scurrying about we do. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said this week. "If a foreign country tried to take this land away from us, we’d fight them." (Wash Post, May 24, 2010) Dear Bobby: we don’t even know who to fight. How about starting with the guys who wanted to shrink the regulatory capacity of government so that it could fit in the size of a bathtub: start with George W. Bush appointees Interior Secretary Gale Norton, her assistant secretary J. Steven Griles, and Karl Rove. That was your team, Gov. Jindal.

I’ll tell you how I feel about the BP CEO saying this is the FIRST time heavy drilling fluids will be applied to a blowout at these depths. And I’ll tell you how I feel about President Obama, in his weekly radio address, who soberly addressed the public: "we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable."

In Mayan times the kings dealt with draught and disaster by offering human sacrifices to appease angry gods; hurling them from heights, down deep wells. There’s a volcano in Iceland that fits the bill: I wonder what BP executives and federal regulators from the Minerals Management Service will volunteer first to be helicopter dropped into that abyss if none of these technologies work and our Christian God won’t put an end to this nightmare?

ALAN FARAGO, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

 

 

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