The Deepwater Horizon Disaster may convince BP to enter the Canadian Tar Sands

As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to grow, President  Obama halts deepwater oil exploration
and calls in the experts. Illustrations by Matt Thomas. Written by Amelia Gregory

Deepwater Horizon - Matt Thomas
Illustration by Matt Thomas.

I’ll be honest, it’s taken me awhile to get my head around the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. My extreme anger that a disaster like this can happen means that I prefer to bury my head in the sand, rather than scurry straight off to find out all the inflammatory facts. But I’ve now had time to have a good rootle around on t’interweb, and amongst claims that the volume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico could be as much as ten times higher than the estimated 5000 barrels a day, I thought it was high time I tackled the crisis head on.

The area around the Gulf of Mexico has a highly sensitive ecology that harbours such wonders as the gorgeous and strange manatee, turtles and rare migratory birds, but warnings about the dangers of drilling in this area were ignored from the outset. Oil giant BP – the biggest player in deepwater oil exploration – went ahead anyway, and of course there were not enough contingency plans in place to manage any possible leakage from what is the deepest well ever drilled, to a vertical depth of 35,000 feet. Scientists who advised of the huge possible risks were stifled, and, as so often happens, the reports that were followed were produced by organisations paid for by one of the companies involved: the Swiss corporation Transocean, who owned the Korean built Deepwater Horizon oil rig. This was a risky venture from start to finish, and the oil which is flooding out 5000 feet below the surface of the water is at such a great depth that the huge plume is hard to measure or track.

Deepwater Horizon - Matt Thomas
Illustration by Matt Thomas.

Since the leak started several methods have been employed to try and lesson the damage of the spill, including burn-offs that release diluted pollutants into the surrounding water and atmosphere, and the use of chemical dispersants, which are described as “like treating cancer with chemotherapy.” Crude petroleum forms large globules and it is presumed preferable to break the oil down into smaller particles that are easier for micro organisms to digest and pass into the food chain at a quicker rate. What this doesn’t take into account is the effects of heavy duty chemicals on the food chain as they migrate through. Many forms of wildlife will also be at too great a depth to be affected by the dispersants.

Booms are being used to form barriers which should stop the oil from coming ashore, and one enterprising natural solution involves using human and animal hair to form absorbent matting. In the USA PETCO stores are donating up to one ton per day of donated fur from 1000 pet salons up and down the country, and many salons are also contributing human hair, which is assembled into the booms by volunteers on the Gulf Coast.

Perhaps most depressing of all, it’s been reported that the Canadian tar sands will be a beneficiary of this tragedy. “I hate to say it, but what is really bad news for offshore is good news for the oil sands,” one industry insider is quoted as saying. “Environmental damage from land-based oil operations… is more manageable. It is hard to imagine… that it would be as difficult to control as a gusher 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.” President Obama has already curtailed offshore development and a planned 2000 mile pipeline to bring crude tar sands directly from Canada to Port Arthur in Texas is looking increasingly likely.

Deepwater Horizon - Matt Thomas
Illustration by Matt Thomas.

As BP, Transocean and arms manufacturer Halliburton (all round bad guys as featured in the film The Yes Men Fix The World) haggle in the courts over who is responsible for the disaster, it was today announced that Obama has deployed a team of five top scientists, including the 82-year-old designer of the first hydrogen bomb, to assist with plans to bung the leaks. Well, he invented the nuclear bomb, what’s not to trust?

The cost of this calamity to BP has been estimated at 6 million dollars a day, with the final bill expected to come in at between 3 billion and 12 billion dollars, and we will see the environmental effects of the spill for many years to come. Regulations in the Gulf of Mexico are likely to tighten from now on, but why does this kind of tremendous catastrophe happen in the first place? For me the answer is obvious. Big businesses like BP have one agenda only, and that is to make money. As much as possible, in whatever way possible. And so they are prepared to take risks when drilling for oil. Like someone weighing up the potential likelihood of getting a parking permit on any one day of illegal parking, they hope that all the corners that are cut, all the cheap routes that are taken, will somehow come up trumps. The theory being that if the parking ticket is avoided, money will be saved, and in BP’s case, the financial profits will be rich.

They will continue to follow this model, and as BP umm and ahh over the prospect of entering the tar sands, I wonder what their decision will be if they are denied anymore offshore drilling in the oily depths of the Gulf of Mexico? Will common sense prevail, or will the nearest alternative cash cow be pursued with the same zeal, whatever the environmental cost? The only way to prevent this outcome is to keep the pressure on, and make sure that it doesn’t happen. Now, or ever.

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