The BP boondoggle

Ben Clarke Political Consultant and Speechwriter
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I am not a man of science. Biology is as far as I got in high school. I passed by the grace of an aging professor who blessed me with a D. Physics was an academic horror I was asked by faculty not to undertake.

If a BP physicist or engineer were so inclined, they could hold a press conference atop the ruins of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and proclaim that ‘plugging the damn hole’ – as President Obama allegedly put it – required that a team be dispatched to install an inverted titanium Johnson valve in the quadrangular oil bore. I would have given the operation the green light.

The recently attempted ‘Top Kill’ solution they decided instead to employ was amusing to an underachieving scientist like me. Right out of ‘Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?’

“Little Jimmy, we have a real environmental disaster on our hands. You see, a big oil rig – like your Lego project over there – has exploded in the big blue Gulf of Mexico. Remember, we were working on our Spanish in class last week? Well, thousands of gallons of crude oil (the stuff your dad puts in his lawn mower) is flowing into the ocean every day. Someone, sitting in time-out somewhere, made a big mistake and can’t fix the problem. What should they do?”

“Why don’t they just fill the hole with golf balls and tires, Mr. Johnson?”


Alas, that was an integral component of what the BP brain trust attempted – and failed – to accomplish in late May. I am told the latest brainstorm involves duct tape and a squirt gun. By the time this article runs, a solution may have been found. I hope so.

This is a disaster, worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe. I am no environmentalist, but even one who eats veal for breakfast must recoil at the sight of a pelican frolicking in crude oil.

Just weeks ago, President Obama lifted a decades-old ban on oil drilling in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. A temporary moratorium has now been implemented. That strikes me as reasonable; a permanent ban, foolish.

Demand for oil is an inconvenient truth in America. We still use it. We still need it. It will take years of innovative conservation to curtail this fact. I understand folks’ general aversion to oil drilling in often fragile ecosystems. I, too, pine for the day that our cars run on M & Ms. But, until that day, the simple fact is America needs more AMERICAN oil. We can provide it, or we can buy it from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or his humanitarian brethren across the globe in Nigeria.

The only thing that we should focus on banning in America right now are romantic comedies starring Meryl Streep, referees in NBA basketball games, and tampon commercials. Sorry.

No, drilling for oil – er, exploring for oil (I worked hard for years to help popularize the euphemism in the mainstream Capitol Hill vernacular) – is a necessary component of a balanced energy policy in America. The key is oversight. MEANINGFUL oversight. And, more importantly, accountability.

To date, we have witnessed neither. The lessons of Hurricane Katrina? The principle of preparedness? Anyone? If George W. Bush were in office right now, something tells me he wouldn’t be jetting off to Los Angeles for political fundraisers, or cooing as Paul McCartney serenaded the First Couple during an intimate East Room concert – as President Obama did last Wednesday night. Hell, maybe he would. If he did, I have a hunch Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann would be hovering around the North Gate of the White House, foaming at the mouth while attempting a citizen’s arrest.

There aren’t many innocent parties in this flop. There is plenty of corruption, co-opting and conflict of interest to go around. It was recently reported that regulators caved to industry lobbying in 2003 (yes, when George W. Bush was in office) against a proposal to make $500,000 remote controlled ‘shut-off’ devices mandatory on these oil rigs.

Fool me once.

I wish the media would start referring to BP by its full name – British Petroleum. When most folks hear mention of BP, they lump the company in with the other thugs of big oil – Exxon, for example. It conjures images of Dick Cheney and his ilk, waxing fat in West Texas. (Not that there is anything wrong with that; I would love to join them sometime.)

These guys are BRITISH. Though the company has tentacles in America, in reality, their CEO has a mansion in Kent. I am pretty sure that is somewhere in England. He is paid in Pounds. Or Euros, perhaps. Do those still exist? You can probably catch him on Google Earth playing a vigorous game of cricket, drinking tea and waddling around to ABBA.

Not since Red Coats torched the White House in 1814 has America had such a prototypical British villain.

*This article was originally published in the Greenfield Recorder (MA)

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