Scale of Gulf Oil Spill Verges on Catastrophic

Nine days after an explosion killed 11 workers on an offshore drilling platform and sent thousands of gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the first of that oil began to wash ashore late Thursday night. As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and Washington stepped up its involvement in the mission to shut off the flow of oil and contain the existing slick, what was once considered an environmental crisis quickly took on the appearance of a full-on catastrophe. Not only are ecosystems from Mississippi to Florida facing critical harms, but economic fallout from the spill threatens to damage numerous local industries from fishing to tourism, in a region already reeling from recession.

In Washington, critics of President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to expand domestic offshore drilling were more vocal than ever in their demands that the ever-present dangers from these sorts accidents be weighed against the economic benefits promised by drilling advocates. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has announced that it will hold hearings on the spill, and will soon be requesting testimony from several of the country’s largest oil companies.

For its part, the Obama administration seems to already be distancing itself from the proposal. Press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that though the President planned on reserving judgment for the time being, the policy would be reviewed in light of evidence about the causes and ultimate effects of the spill.

Many have speculated that any repeal of the offshore drilling ban would be a political concession aimed at building support for the White House’s energy plan. Still considered to be a priority for Obama in his first term, the energy bill was recently placed on the back burner by congress in favor of immigration reform. Publicly, the President had been selling a balanced strategy towards energy independence that coupled infrastructure and technological investment with increased domestic energy production.

Tough Predicament

With fears looming that the Gulf of Mexico spill could become one of the worst environmental catastrophes in recent US history, there is now a strong possibility that President Obama will abandon his offshore drilling plan in favor of energy reform that is narrowly focused on eliminating demand for crude oil rather than increasing its supply.

Yet, the Obama administration is likely to face fierce opposition for fuel efficiency investments beyond what has already been committed. The administration has invested $2.4 billion in next-generation fuel-saving auto technologies, with funds coming from the $787 billion federal stimulus bill approved in February 2009. In addition, the federal government is providing
$25 billion in loans
—provided under the Bush administration—to the auto industry for retooling to produce advanced technology vehicles. Conservative opponents have been critical of loans—especially the $1 billion dollars going to start-ups, such as Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive.

In the current political climate, Obama’s detractors are likely to put up strong opposition to any spending that will increase the national debt—no matter how much such investments will eventually help reduce the country’s long-term dependence on oil. The difficulty in holding back the oil slick from approaching the Gulf Coast serves as an ugly symbol of our national predicament regarding the need to quickly shift to vehicles that use less oil, or better yet, none at all.

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  • Charles

    What was that campaign slogan from 2008, Spill Baby Spill?

  • Eric

    Contact the President to insist that we stop investing in these environmental disasters, and push for clean energy.

  • Charles

    Looking on the bright side, maybe this will put a stop to the “Drill Baby Drill” mantra that has been driving our insane energy policy. We need to move away from carbon fuels as fast as we can. Yes, I and almost all scientists do believe in man made global warming. Drilling for carbon, just puts more CO2 into the air and only slightly postpones the inevitable switch to clean energy. Lets be a leader on climate like we were in the Nixon days, not the ostrich we turned into during the Reagan years.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Look on the bright side: Steam ships won’t have to buy fuel anymore. They can just scoop it up as they drive along

  • Van Lewis

    I’m a clam farmer in Florida and I’m not a happy camper right now. I’ve been pushing for clean energy since the 1960s. Will the Republicans and Democrats who still want to drill offshore for oil please just go drown yourselves in the oil slick now with the sea birds and fish and manatees you’ve killed.

  • Brad Berman, Editor

    Van Lewis,
    Please contact me. We would like to tell your story in greater detail.

    Brad Berman, Editor

  • Samie

    Here is an idea any costs associated with the cleanup be charged to BP. BP will face years of litigation from civil suits, pay for worker compensation, the possibility of negligence becasue the claim that workers were intentionally injured, also compensation for people like Van Lewis who may suffer from lost wages, and any indirect costs that comes from a contingent valuation survey.

    I always say everything has a cost (direct, indirect or hidden) and this is what you get when you irrationally talk up deregulating and less government backed up by incompetence from regulators. More attention needs to call out hypocrites who champion mindless political ideas but when an emergency happens they are silent (Sarah Palin) or raise the red flag for federal assistance (Bobby Jindal) but only go back to the mindless ideas that contributed to such horrible accidents a few months or years later (beyond the environmental damage more importantly to those who lost their lives).

    I must be clear, we should be critical of any tough talk from this administration and the finger pointing that will come from subcommittees or committees (ie. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming) Just blaming Republicans does nothing to get to the root of the problem… Most hearings on Capital Hill do nothing and are a waste of taxpayer’s money because we all know that those who finance high ranking committee members are the ones who influence the direction of such regulations. Also just as damning is the judicial system in Louisiana where judges are known to rule depending on who finances their campaigns.

  • Weneedchange

    stunning news. Awful accident. But Ameica had it coming, because we rely alot in oil. When in reality, oil is not the only energy source which can keep us going. In particular, our cars have the potential to rely on RENEWABLE ENERGY rather than our dirty oil. We as the people of the United States of America must realize that if we don’t take afforbative action, by urging our lawmakers to renew laws. Which would decrease our dependence on this toxic substance, then chances are that this oil spill might just be the start. Think of this issue as a warning. We humans are abusing mothernature, and although she has given us awful natural catastrophies. Possibly it is punishment for our disrespect towards our planet.

    In the political world, there are current two bills, which are on the brink to being considered for laws. Energy and Climate Bill, which increased hopes for a greener future. Then comes the well-known Immigration reform. As an individual of this country, my choice of the menu, is the climate bill. Because WE must take whatever actions possible to protect our environment. We must realize that time is passing, and there is no time for breaks. We must realize that if we don’t clutch this issue by its’ base, then we are seeing a future of about thirty years to be awfully stated.

    So, the oil spill which is wildly spreading within the gulf of mexico, is warning of our deadly dependence on oil. It possibly is a sign that if action is not taken, then we may face trastic catrostophies in the years to come. WE MUST TAKE ACTION NOW.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Your idea of charging BP for everything is great, however, it would bankrupt BP and subsequently, the oil industry because of liability insurance costs that would go up unimaginably. This, in turn would cause the price of oil to skyrocket. Our economy is dependant on cheap oil so our economy would completely tank for a long time because we don’t have any alternative in place.
    While I’m personally all for it, I don’t think most people or the politicians that pander to them would have the stomache to handle this.
    No, we’ll end of sweeping this one under the rug, yet again. BP will get a measly slap on the wrist of a few $million, FEMA will pretend to take care of Mr. Lewis et al and we’ll come out of this, still addicted to oil and shorter on cash.

  • AP

    Actually, BP is liable for the costs of the cleanup, and has announced that they will pay for it.

    I agree with the comments above about putting too much emphasis on the supply side and too little on effective ways of reducing oil consumption (something that CAFE has failed at). However, I wouldn’t gloat. Right now, our main alternative is electricity, which is most generated from coal. Not exactly good for the environment either.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Actually, very little of my electricity comes from coal. My grid mix is only 10% coal but I, personally, provide enough solar electricity per day to offset all of my EV driving.
    Unfortunately, it is not possible to harvest my own oil from the confines of my own roof. Does this mean I can gloat?

  • Collin Burnell

    Oil and Coal,
    Oil and Coal,
    How many more will DIE from,
    Oil and Coal?

  • Fred Linn

    ——-” Oil and Coal,
    Oil and Coal,
    How many more will DIE from,
    Oil and Coal?”——–

    Well, let’s see, about 5,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan, not counting the 2,000,000+ Iraqis.

    About 6,000 deaths per year from asthma in the US, up from about 1,500 in 1975.

    I suppose, we should count the 2,000+ 9/11 victims since oil is a major underlaying factor in extremist terrorism.

    29 in West Virginia.

    11 in Louisiana.

    And Jeremy Davidson, 3.

    I may have forgotten a few.

  • Perry Castiglione

    Millions and millions, and millions of dollars have been collected for human disasters relief around the world. It is given to humans who are suppossed to be able to help themselves. The animals lives that are being distroyed by this human mistake can’t help themselves, yet I don’t see anyone collecting millions for them. Instead we blame the company and expect them to clean it up. We are the ones that create the demand for oil. We are all responsible.

  • Anonymous

    this is what kids are heading into this is their future.

  • Karlee

    This is a big crisis that our kids future is going to look like as they get older and realize they have to deal with the big go green and economic problem later on in life