In response to America's largest ever environmental disaster, Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, said, “I'd like my life back.” He seemed to have forgotten about the 11 workers who died on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it exploded 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, on 20th April 2010.
But you have to sympathise with Tony. The fact that BP failed to test the strength of the cement in the well, despite knowing that the casing was “the riskier of two options” and that it “might collapse under pressure” can't be held against him. Even though the same disregard for safety killed 15 and injured 170 BP workers in the Texas Oil Refinery explosion of 2005.
BP has also had over 20 years since the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska to learn from it's botched response to that disaster. Yes, despite Exxon having it's name on the tanker, it was actually BP who disastrously failed to contain the toxic sludge that spewed into pristine wilderness. But that was then. BP has since spent billions of dollars on advertising telling us they are 'Beyond Petroleum' – so beyond it in fact they don't care how much they lose.
BP has had over 8,000 minor and major recorded spills since 1990 alone. While all eyes have been on the current ecocide in the Gulf of Mexico, their Alaskan Pipeline burst in late May, spewing 100,000 gallons of oil into the environment. State inspectors say this occurred because "procedures weren't properly implemented," in other words – they didn't give a damn.
The ho-hum lackadaisical attitude of Tony Hayward is indicative of BP's disaster response in general. It has been shocking to see BP's slow response to contain the oil. There is a complete lack of any oil containment technology, beyond stringing some booms (vinyl tubes) over the ocean that deflate and blow away. While the oil industry has poured billions of dollars into riskier deep-water drilling, it has not invested in responses to the leaks and disasters that have increased four fold in the last decade.
Maybe we're overreacting. Let us again heed the soothing words of Tony, or Tiny Tony as he is now known in the US due to the following comment, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” That would be the estimated 47 million to 235 million gallons of toxic crude oil that has poured into the ocean over the last 8 weeks. An insignificant, teensy-weensy amount. Not to mention the use in the 'clean up' of 1 million tonnes of the Corexit oil dispersant, a neuro toxin pesticide banned in the UK, arguably as harmful as the oil itself.
We need not worry our silly little heads about the ecological destruction either. Tiny Tony assures us, “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest." Come now Tony, it's you that is being modest. This disaster is going to kill thousands of dolphins and sea turtles, hundreds of thousands of seabirds and billions of fish and shellfish.
Fisheries have been the foundation of Louisiana's coastal communities for hundreds of years. Shrimping, oyster-catching and fishing are not just a source of income for these people, they are a way of life. A way of life they would like back, Tony. Instead BP is playing on their vulnerability, while 12,000 face unemployment, the 'lucky' few are paid to clean up the toxic oil. BP has refused to provide masks and other safety equipment to the fishermen. When this resulted in several cases of clean-up workers being hospitalised, Tony said it was probably due to food poisoning. Shrimp à la oil?
The Louisiana wetlands that nurture the wildlife, fisheries and communities have already been decimated by the oil industry. The wetlands are a 4.2 million acre region where the Mississippi River flows into the Atlantic. They have formed over 7,500 years by the rivers flooding and annually depositing silt creating long fingers of land and barrier islands. It has taken just 75 years for them to have been almost completely destroyed. They are disappearing faster than any other part of the world, with an area the size of a football field lost every 38 minutes.
Oil and natural gas were discovered in Louisiana's coastal areas in the early 1900s. This lead to long canals being cut through the wetlands to transport drilling equipment and oil. As well as being destructive in itself, this allowed more salt water to seep in to the wetlands, which killed the freshwater plant's roots leading to further soil erosion. These wetlands act as a natural defence against hurricane storm surges. The further they are destroyed the more vulnerable coastal towns all the way up to New Orleans become. The storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 flooded 80% of the city, killing over 2,000 people.
As New Orleans and the coastal region still struggle to recover 5 years after Katrina they face a real kick in the teeth. Meteorological experts are predicting, "the most active season on record” for hurricanes, comparing ocean temperatures that contribute to hurricane formation to those in the summer of Katrina. Oil from the BP rig is predicted to continue to spew in to the gulf for months to come. A hurricane sweeping a surge of oil into the wetlands and towns of Louisiana would be apocalyptic for the region.
This disaster has shown, as if we needed more evidence, that the capitalist system courts disaster. It has no interest in the ecological and human costs of generating profit. Even when disaster inevitably strikes, it is unwilling and unable to come up with a technological solution.
Or as Tiny Tony put it last year, BP's “primary purpose was to generate profit for our share holders” and that “our primary purpose in life was not to save the world.” Really Tony, you don't say.
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