Slippery oil slicks

That last one was courtesy of British Petroleum Co. just 14 months ago, telling regulators and the rest of us that one of its gargantuan oil rigs, aptly named Deepwater Horizon, 48 miles off the Louisiana shore, was nothing to worry about.

Just tell that to the residents and industries back on land and in the fishing waters who face a "significant adverse impact," which is one way of describing an ecological and economic calamity. BP's response to the runaway gusher thousands of feet undersea has been pathetically inadequate, even with massive government help. Gee. What a surprise.

And now a massive oil glob is threatening to smother much of the Gulf coastline and entire industries that employ thousands upon thousands. It could well be a catastrophe.

Now the Coast Guard commandant admits, "We're breaking new ground here. It's hard to write a plan for ... what could never be in a plan, what you couldn't anticipate.” Which begs the question: Why in heaven’s name were regulators and politicians so quick to accept BP's assurances?

For that matter, why were President Obama and so many of our politicians ready to go along with massive new offshore drilling projects?

It sure didn't take long for that decision to become a major embarrassment. Now the president has high-tailed it down to the area for damage control, as in face-saving, because it looks like the damage from the muck run amok may be out of control: what he now calls a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”

This is being likened to the Exxon Valdez fiasco of 21 years ago, although possibly a much, much bigger one. When the president notes that "BP is ultimately responsible" to pay the costs of all this, we should not forget it has taken 20 years plus for Exxon to finally run out of courts where its creative lawyers could conjure up legal obstacles and pay most of its obligations. More than 20 years!

The games have already begun. BP is blaming Transocean, the company from which it leased the platform. Transocean faults Cameron, a key valve manufacturer and supplier. And is anyone surprised Halliburton is part of this confusing act as a subcontractor?

There are lessons to be learned beyond the devastated Gulf Coast. For starters, we can watch the ongoing debate on the Senate floor. It is saturated with promises effective regulation is not needed to prevent another financial calamity. Just trust big business.

As for the oil and gas industry, here's a prediction that's as close to a sure thing as you can get: Don't be surprised if the Deepwater Horizon tragedy will be the newest excuse for a big jump in gasoline prices. We know that “oil slick” is also another name for energy company executives.

Have they or their pliant government officials learned any lasting lesson? Don't bet on it. It won't be long before we are seduced by the siren song of experts in one vital field or another as they croon "What Could Go Wrong?"


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.

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