Today's one of those days that should make you re-think that whole oil thing. Down on the Gulf Coast, they're still dealing with the impact of the massive BP oil spill that occurred 53 months ago -- dead or sick dolphins and sea turtles, diminished seafood catches, cleanup workers who are still plagued by headaches, nausea, or worse because of their exposure to either 5 million barrels of oil or the toxic dispersant that was sprayed to make the oil slicks vanish from the TV cameras.
In 2010, to satisfy our nation's endless thirst for fossil fuels, BP was given the OK to drill for oil in one-mile of deep water, another example of the extremes that we go to in developing new energy sources. In such a risky environment, you might have expected BP to proceed with great caution -- but then you wouldn't know how the industry works. Instead, the oil giant gambled on cutting corners to squeeze out a few extra bucks -- with disastrous consequences. And today, a judge ruled that BP's behavior was so "reckless" that it may be on the hook for $18 billion-with-a-'b' in damages:
In a 153-page, densely technical decision, Judge Barbier described how BP repeatedly ignored mounting warning signs that the well was unstable, making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”
Judge Barbier painstakingly re-created the hurried effort to temporarily shut in a problematic well, deemed by some to be “the well from hell,” and shows how a series of problems, many of which were suspected by the rig’s crew, led to the blowout. Even after noting these anomalies, BP crew members ignored test results that should have reinforced caution, and, if heeded, could have prevented the disaster even in its final minutes, he wrote.
So you to figure that this is the end of America's hopeless love affair with fossil fuels, right? Hahaha, who am I kidding? This nation is hopelessly devoted to crude. Take a look at our president, Barack Obama. Remember all those young people with the hopey-changey stuff plastered across their college dorms in 2008? The fact that Obama promised he would deal with the looming climate change crisis -- remember the day that oceans were going to stop rising? -- which of course meant reducing our use of fossil fuels, was a big part of that. Occasionally he still talks the talk, out of nostalgia for those wild-and-crazy times. But the reality is that any time that up from the ground comes a bubblin' crude in North Dakota or somewhere, Obama goes all "Beverly Hillbillies" on us. It's impossible to be president of the United States and not get excited about a new oil gusher -- even after you've said it's going to drown your grandchildren.
Michael Clare, a scholar who's done some of the best writing on energy and the absurdities of our fossil fuel addiction in recent years, had an excellent piece today about how Americans -- despite knowing what we know about global warming, are more goo-goo-eyed about oil than ever.
Here's an excerpt:
With emissions from natural gas expected to rise -- the inevitable result of the shale gas boom -- and coal emissions experiencing only a modest decline (some of which is offset by rising U.S. exports of coal to be burned elsewhere), total domestic carbon emissions from energy use in 2040 are still predicted to be a devastating 6% higher than they are today. Can there be any question at this point of how this will help ensure the sorts of predicted global temperature increases, with all the ensuing side effects, that every expert knows will be devastating to the planet?
At a national level, such a situation -- knowing one thing and doing something else -- can only be described as some form of mass delusion or a collective version of schizophrenia. In one part of our collective brain, we are aware that petroleum use must decline sharply to prevent the sorts of global catastrophes that we are only used to seeing in science fiction movies; in another, we retain our affection for driving and gasoline use without giving much thought to the consequences. We have a global warming president presiding over a massive expansion of fossil fuel production. Think of this as a form of collective mental compartmentalization that should frighten us all -- and yet from the president on down, it’s remarkable how few seem disturbed by it.
Obviously, this is an unsustainable condition. Eventually, excessive petroleum use will produce such frequent and severe climate effects that no president or energy executive would dare boast of increased petroleum output and none of us would even dream of filling up the gas tank to take a “day-cation” at a distant tourist site.
That last line, I'm not so sure about. Just like Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove," I'm pretty sure we Americans would drive our gas-guzzling SUVs into the heart of a nuclear explosion, waving our cowboys hats and shouting "yee haw" all the way down.
On that note, have a great, normal weekend.