FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The True Price of Oil

From my window in Alameda overlooking San Francisco Bay, I watch hundreds of men and women in white suits, some with masks, busily uprooting slimy sea plants and gently grabbing birds with feathers coated in black grease. Abutting the public beach, this “bird preserve” became a disaster for the very creatures it was designed to protect. On October 30, a line broke during a fuel transfer, the Panamanian-flagged Dubai Star. Some 800 gallons poured into the Bay.

During the first three days, clean up crews, according to official reports, found 36 oil-covered birds alive. Two more died after not responding to treatment to join 11 other dead pelicans, herons, gulls and sandpipers.

Puddles of thick black goo found their lodging along the Alameda public beaches. Hardened “tar balls,” as one crew member called them, hid among the sea plants. The bodies of oily fish rested nearby.

The Bay looked unusually quiet on the days following the spill. I missed the shrieks of the diving ducks and avocets, the playful feeding of the pelicans and the peaceful feeling of harmony that somehow derives from watching the current roll in and out. The clean up crews placed long plastic barriers in the water reaching from Alameda to Bay Farm Island a half a mile across to catch the floating oil pools so they won’t penetrate further into the delicate recesses of the Bay near the Oakland Airport. The ubiquitous fishermen that dot the shoreline were notably absent. “No Fishing Allowed,” said the official sign. Each entrance to the beach contained crime scene yellow tape. “Oil Spill. Unsafe to Enter Water.”

“Shit happens,” remarked one clean up worker placing the “shit” into a large plastic bag. “Lucky no one died. The birds took a hit and no one knows how many fish and shell fish, fish eggs and seals and other sea creatures ate it. And no one knows what the long term effects will be. That’s a risk people don’t tend to think about when we talk about our dependence on oil.” He offered a philosophical smile, as if somehow the entire mess belonged to a vague and immutable source; an oil spill, a veritable act of Nature, like an earthquake or hurricane. A fuel line broke. Just like that. No more need be said.

In November 2007, a far worse environmental disaster occurred when a tug boat pilot steered the Cosco Busan into a Bay Bridge pillar. The tanker spilled 54,000 gallons of toxic fuel into the Bay. The pilot mistakenly guided the container ship through heavy fog toward a tower of the Bay Bridge, instead of through the passage between towers. The collision cut 8-feet deep and 212-feet long into the ship’s hull.

That “human error” left 2,525 dead birds. Rescue teams saved 418 of the oil-covered creatures. Over time, work crews cleaned up the surface of 52 miles of oil-contaminated sandy beach coastline and 10 miles of salt marsh.
The workers managed to siphon from the Bay water 20,000 of the 54,000 spilled gallons of oil. Committees met on local, state and national levels to figure out how to minimize future “human errors.”

Ah, we humans, so prone to error and so dependent on oil. Hardly a month passes without some such oily “mistake” somewhere in the world. In September 1996, the Julie M, a 560-foot oil tanker, crashed into a bridge in Maine, pouring 170,000 gallons of oil into the water. It cost $130 million to replace the span on the Casco Bay Bridge.

Who deserves responsibility for such “accidents?” Government, owners, oil companies, the public that uses the product, or the entire system for which oil has become the equivalent of a blood line?

The tug boat pilot who ran the Cosco Busan into the bridge received a ten month prison term after pleading guilty to two environmental misdemeanors. He had become disorientated in heavy fog, he said, while using onboard navigational equipment, the National Transportation Safety Board found. He abandoned the ship’s radar system because he thought it had grown distorted. The pilot, it turned out, had taken “mind-altering pharmaceuticals.” (Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Planning for the Cosco Busan Oil Spill)

Like most working Americans, he felt stress and this led him to drugs, confusion and “human error.” Errors produce contamination, dead creatures that depend on balanced environment not filled with oil, which seeps into sand and infects all beneath it. Above ground, we cannot blame human error for pouring the stuff into engines that emit atmosphere-changing vapors that scientists say have altered the global climate – not for the better. Is there a larger human error at work?

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail