Sunday, May 9, 2010


Residents along the Santa Barbara coast were assured every precaution was being taken

to protect the area from accidental oil spills which might occur from offshore drilling.

Residents in Alaska were promised the latest safety techniques were in place to make sure

accidents while transporting Alaskan crude could not occur. Residents in Pennsylvania heard

experts proclaim the safety records of nuclear plants and certainty an accident was not

possible. Old news all. Now, the reality of failure falls to the people living along the Gulf

Coast from Louisiana to Florida. They were told drilling rigs fifty miles offshore could never

spill so much oil or that it would never reach the shore. Once again, Americans are reeling

from the good intentions of well-intended lies.

Like comedy, timing is everything in politics. President Obama announced his support

for opening sections of the East Coast, the Gulf, and Alaska for offshore oil drilling. He was

trying to attract Republicans to support his energy legislation. California Governor Arnold

Schwarzenegger came out in favor of opening up offshore drilling to close a $20 billion state

budget deficit. He's now reversed himself, opposing all new offshore drilling because of the

potential environmental and economic damage a spill could cause. Environmental groups

who reluctantly supported the President are heading for the hills. Progressive Senators may

oppose the energy bill if the President doesn't change his position on the issue. While damage

to the Gulf is serious and growing, imagine this catastrophe occurring in the Alaskan National

Wildlife Refuge. The environmental damage would be incalculable.

Spilling milk is an accident. A fender-bender is an accident. Millions of barrels of oil

flowing into the ocean from a ship or an oil rig is a disaster. This should not have happened.

There is no excuse.

Could the Exxon Valdez disaster have been avoided? Yes! If the ship had had a double

hull, the spill would have been significantly less or possibly even totally contained. However,

the Exxon Valdez was an older tanker; and Exxon would have had to spend a lot of money to

retrofit its fleet and that would have reduced profit.

The Wallstreet Journal reported back in 2004 that the fail-safe mechanism that BP

(British Petroleum) was using on their deep-sea wells had experts raising questions whether

it could work at depths of 5,000 feet. These concerns were never addressed. The EPA

(Environmental Protection Agency) did not do their job. Drilling should not have begun

until oil companies could prove their device worked. Too late, we now know the device failed

and it could be another week or more before the flow of oil is stemmed.

If the EPA had attempted to stop drilling until tests were run, BP would have screamed

bloody murder. The Bush Administration would have fired the head of the EPA and the U.S.

Chamber of Commerce would have attacked bird-huggers as environmental whackos bent on

destroying the economy of this nation. We now face an environmental Chernobyl with no idea

how bad it will be, how much oil will spill, the effect on the coast, or how much it will cost to

correct. And we can expect this cycle of irresponsibility to continue as long as those in charge

are willing to sacrifice environmental safety for short-term profit.

When talking about oil drilling or nuclear plants, the word "accident" should be removed

from the language. "Accident" implies something unforeseen and mostly manageable.

"Accidents" require a band aid, some Bondo, or maybe a cast. The word "accident" lulls

the listener into a false sense of security. The Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island,

and this spill in the Gulf are disasters. They are catastrophes. They are nightmares. The

nuclear energy industry likes to talk about how many years they have been "accident" free.

The oil industry takes great pride in having no major "accidents" in years. Supporters of

drilling in ANWAR always site the lack of "accidents" as proof the drilling can be done safely.

It's time for the language to change.

As things now stand, "accidents" are simply factored into the cost of doing business.

Preventable catastrophes are not business expenses! "Accidents" are not to be understood

in terms of risk in the profit-loss game. At some point, too much risk will be considered

acceptable; and when that happens the "loss" will be insurmountable! After the fact, we will

be told of some "unfortunate miscalculation" which no creative accounting adjustments will

be able to placate.

We have no idea how much of an ecological and environmental disaster this latest event

in the Gulf will be. We won't know for months or years. The pressure to open up more areas

of the U.S. coast to drilling won't go away. It's a simple answer to a complex problem.

Pressure to license new nuclear plants in this country is perennial. Once again, a simple

answer to a complex problem and we'll be told that the technologies are safe. We will continue

to be told every effort is being made to prevent "accidents". We will continue to be told there

is no other way, that these are the only solutions to our energy needs. Projects will be pushed

for the jobs they create and how they will reduce our dependency on foreign oil. It will be

"un-American" to oppose them. Groups who organize against these policies will be called

"obstructionists, luddites, tree-huggers, whackos, and unpatriotic". They will be attacked as

21st century "chicken littles". This cycle of failure and blame must end.

As the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen, shrimpers, coastal residents, and

businesses monitor this most recent environmental and economic tsunami; do you think they

wish someone had pushed harder to prevent drilling until "accidents" were not possible? As

delicate and vulnerable marshes and wildlife sanctuaries are threatened and destroyed, do you

think someone should have pushed harder to make sure fail-safe devices didn't fail? As the

Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues the first license for a new generation of nuclear plants,

do you think someone should protest until the problem of where to store spent fuel rods and

the possibility of "accidents" is eliminated?

Don't count on any help from President Obama. He has already shown he will cave in on

any issue to look bi-partisan. Environmental groups who signed on to move drilling offshore

have shown how easy it is to be stampeded. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will continue

pushing to befoul every coastline, poison every bird or fish, and bury spent fuel rods in your

backyard if it means an extra buck for corporate America. The only way we can prevent

disasters is to not be stampeded, not be afraid to be called names, not be intimidated by

shouts of traitor or of being "un-American". We have to hold politicians and environmental

group's feet to the fire. We must never allow the word "accident" to be used in this context

ever again. Pogo was right. "...we have met the enemy and it is us." What do you think?

I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Note: Sometimes more than one blog is posted at a time, so be sure to check previous blogs

to make sure that you haven't missed anything!


  1. Your last three columns all on target. Keep thinking writing and running. Senior tea was great. Giants and Sharks stirring up Bay Area. Maybe even hope for the Niners. Take care and stay alive with the grandeur of God.
    Steve Dells

  2. the reason the market crashed and the oil leaked are the same, everyone is busy getting in line including the regulators

  3. I watched, almost bemused, as the representatives of British Petroleum, Transocean and Haliburton (Oh, oh, not the H-word again!) took turns pointing the finger of blame at each other at their circus act of a press conference a few days ago. I don't know who's the slicker fish: The GOP or the big corporations they protect.

    Speaking of slicker fish, even though the vast majority of the oil spill hasn't yet reached shore, undersea life must be getting decimated by the toxic sludge that's hovering below. Water is thier air. And with daily spill projections continually spiraling upwards from the initial 3,000 barrels a day to 70,000+ barrels (nearly 3 million gallons) a day, the evironmental impact of this spill is already FAR worse than the 11 million gallon Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.

    On the subject of nuclear power I'm in favor of increasing nuclear plant production. The U.S. still has massive coal reserves in states like Wyoming and, as you know, coal-fired plants are one of the primary CO2 emmitters directly contributing to the greenhouse gas effect of global atmospheric warming. Present nuclear plants were designed in the 60's and 70's, and we've had 40+ years to improve upon the safety of these plants. I would not condone nuclear installations anywhere upwind of populated areas. California's two commercial facilities, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, should never have been located where they are on our pristine coast and near populated areas. It's possible to locate these plants in the desert, such as is the case with the Palo Verde plant near Buckeye, Arizona (Unfortunately placed 35 miles upwind of the Phoenix metro area instead of a more remote location).

    I agree that the spent fuel rod storage issue has not been solved yet. However, I truely believe that nuclear, in addition to solar and wind energy, is our best prospect for affordable, cleaner energy in the next 50 years, or until a more plausable energy solution is devised. The sooner we can wean ourselves off Texas Tea and coal, the better.

    Hope all's well with you, Bernie. Take care for now.


    PS Here's a link to an article that might interest you.

  4. Here's another link to an article I missed yesterday.