Out of Sight, Out of Slime

Oil Spill in Lebanon

(Picture from greenpeace.org)

The Horizon Well blowout has slipped out of public view, and the media has moved on.   The gulf is recovering, and the people who live along and off of it are left to deal with legal arms of BP.   What comes now?

In some quarters, a continuing threat is encroaching on safety and environmental concerns, from the carelessness of Big Oil.   The incidents of well leakage are on the increase, and have been since 2007.  Reports from around the world show that just because we only got media coverage of Horizon’s spill doesn’t mean it isn’t happening often, and all over the planet.

Data from regulators around the world suggest that after years of improvement, the offshore-drilling industry’s safety record declined over the past two years.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed statistics from four countries with large offshore oil industries and modern regulatory systems: the U.S., Great Britain, Norway and Australia. (A fifth, Brazil, declined to make its data available.) Each country uses different approaches to measure losses of well control or spills, but they reveal a similar trend.

In the U.S. portion of the Gulf of Mexico in 2009, there were 28 major drilling-related spills, natural-gas releases or incidents in which workers lost control of a well. That is up 4% from 2008, 56% from 2007, and nearly two-thirds from 2006. Taking into account the number of hours worked on offshore rigs, the rate of these incidents rose every year from 2006 to 2009.


Some experts say the spate of accidents shows that the Deepwater Horizon wasn’t an isolated event, and that by describing the disaster as a “low probability, high consequence event,” the industry has blinded itself to the likelihood that such accidents will recur.

“This accident was bound to happen,” says Nancy Leveson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and engineering safety expert who has studied the Deepwater Horizon disaster. “It might not happen on that day. It might not happen on that rig. But it was bound to happen.”

The increasing push for increasing revenues at the cost of what standards still exist has been blamed for much of the hazard.   It’s no surprise, when our barons of all industries are willing to trample on the public they seek returns from, that Big Oil has joined the stampede to get profits before it is stymied by concerns for the damage they’re doing.

Overriding concerns about the economy have given the ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd a new excuse for its slack standards.  Under the fiction that anything to regulate the industry ‘kills Jobs’, the industry fights as if it represented Mr. John Q Public.   The rising prices of gas are sucked up into the industry talking points, forgetting that the original rise in gas prices set off the destruction of families’ budgets, and resultant going into debt.   Another economic debacle is hardly out of the question if new price hikes are imposed on the precarious present struggle to survive for U.S. families.

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