Our appetite for oil, our appetite for destruction
On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked a British Petroleum deepwater drilling rig 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana. A slow response and bungled attempts at containment followed. Government and British Petroleum officials estimate that 210,000 gallons of oil are seeping into the Gulf of Mexico each day.
Many experts remain skeptical of the figure as both groups have a vested interest in minimizing the perceived impact of the disaster. Independent environmental groups, such as Skytruth, have stated that the true figure could be as much as 5 times the official number. As continued attempts at containment fail, the likelihood of this spill becoming the greatest environment disaster in U.S. history increase.
While BP and government officials are scratching their heads, residents of the Gulf Coast are bracing themselves for the massive oil slick's eventual landfall and wondering, what's next and how did we get here?
This disaster was 50 years in the making. The warning signs have been evident and yet are still somehow being ignored. So let's examine the events leading up to the spill.
Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela form OPEC (The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries)
OPEC wrestles control of crude oil prices from interests based in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The balance of power in the oil industry shifts to the Middle East.
In response to U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, OPEC imposes oil embargos on the U.S. as well as several other importing countries.
Reacting to the embargo-related oil crisis, forward-thinking countries mobilize resources and begin to galvanize efforts to limit their dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.
However, in America auto manufacturers begin developing the SUV in order take over a major share of the automobile market.
1980s - 1990s:
Many European countries take the lead on producing sustainable energy projects and further commit themselves to limiting their dependence on fossil fuels.
The Hummer, which gets nine miles per gallon, is released to civilian markets in the United States.
1990s and 2000s:
The world begins to realize that Blowout Preventers (BOPs), the safety device that failed in the current Deepwater Horizon incident, are nowhere near failsafe. Major oil-producing countries begin stricter regulations of BOPs and implement new restrictions mandating the use of acoustic triggers (a remote, failsafe shut-off valve activator) on the BOPs of all offshore rigs.
Back home the American government considers implementing similar safety measures. Big Oil, however, successfully lobbies against the restrictions, citing the $500,000 cost of the measures as excessive. Safety measures on U.S. offshore rigs remain lax.
Late 90s and 2000s:
Countries across Europe, Asia and South America begin the widespread use of solar, wind, and bio-fuel generated power. Meanwhile, across America, commuters travel to work in shiny oversized 4x4s that have never seen a dirt road.
The U.S. continues to neglect sustainable energy progress. Wars continue to rage in the Middle East in the name of "freedom" or rather, oil. The endgame remains unclear. Many prominent figures and politicians continue to deny the existence or extent of global warming.
April 2, 2010:
President Obama addresses a crowd at a South Carolina town hall meeting. "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced," he says.
April 20, 2010:
British Petroleum-leased offshore drilling rig explodes. Eleven crewmembers are missing and presumed dead.
April 24, 2010:
Two days after Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig sinks to the ocean floor, robots detect the first signs of oil leaking from the BP well; rate of release remains unknown.
April 25, 2010:
One thousand barrels of oil a day are originally estimated to be leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.
April 27, 2010:
BP releases first quarter numbers for 2010. Profits for the 3-month period near $6 billion.
April 28, 2010:
A third oil leak is discovered. The Coast Guard revises original estimate and declares that as many as 5,000 barrels of oil are seeping into the Gulf Coast waters each day.
April 30, 2010:
Reports surface that oil has reached the coastline. Opposition to the upcoming Cape Wind Farm, a sustainable energy project in the Nantucket Sound, becomes ever more ridiculous.
May 3, 2010:
Gov. Schwarzenegger pulls support for the expansion of offshore drilling off the coast of California citing TV images of the BP oil spill as his motivation.
While it is clear that the full scope of this disaster will not be accurately measured for months or possibly even years, it has the potential to become the most devastating environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The question remains, however, can anything positive be taken from this catastrophe? Will this serve as a wake-up call and revolutionize U.S. policy and practice in developing and utilizing alternative and sustainable energies? If humanity has any hope of a long and healthy existence, then it is absolutely essential that we heed this warning and begin to shift this nation's resistance to necessary change.
It is time for Americans to stop consuming for the sake of consumption. It is time to carefully consider this planet's fragile future, instead of simply mortgaging it off to cover the ever-increasing cost of the present.
Unfortunately, given the U.S.'s history of blissful ignorance over realism, and capitalism over pragmatism, I expect this will neither be the last nor the worst incident etched into the American history books.