When There is a Disaster, Why Dismiss Offers to Help?

It’s Day 50 of the Gulf Oil Spill crisis.  Americans are angry.  We’re angry with British Petroleum’s (BP) handling of the situation and we’re frustrated with President Obama’s inability to force a solution.  No one seems to know what they are doing. 

James Cameron is an award winning filmmaker who has decades of experience with deep ocean technology. In addition to Avatar and Titanic, he’s also filmed two documentaries about the Titanic.  He’s offered help to BP and has been turned down. Despite that rejection, Cameron has assembled a team of experts, formed a working group and together they have completed a comprehensive report. 

Like so many of us, Cameron was motivated by frustration watching the growing devastation over the past four weeks of this disaster with seemingly no solution in sight.  Unlike most of us, Cameron has resources and connections.  He decided to call upon the experts and asked them to come together for a brainstorming session. The meeting took place recently at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency and included 23 experts from around the world that Cameron gathered. This report of recommendations and will be submitted to the EPA and the Department of Energy this week.

The problem is much more complex than many think.  It isn’t merely a plumbing issue.  Cameron is right to call for transparency when it comes to how BP is handling the Gulf Oil Spill.  The government does not have independent capability right now and is relying on the oil company for all of its imaging and information.  Of course the oil company has its own interests to protect, so we have to be skeptical of whether or not we’re seeing the entire reality of the crisis.

In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show June 7, Cameron asked an important question.  He asked, “Does the government want to rely on BP or another oil company for all of its intel coming out of the site or do they want their own independent capability to go in and see what’s happening?  We have that ability.  We have submergibles.  We have ROVs.  We have all kinds of vehicles that can get down there and we have experienced operators.  Why doesn’t the government have that kind of capability independent of relying on the oil company?”

A June 2 Washington Post article by Garance Franke-Ruta quotes Cameron as saying, “Because if you’re not monitoring it independently, you’re asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene.”

If BP has so kindly rejected Cameron’s offer, the government should seriously consider it as well as the questions he’s raised regarding the need for our government to survey the site and do its own investigation.  Critical thinkers are left with many questions.  Why not accept Cameron’s offer of assistance with his private team of deep-sea experts? When the disaster is this horrific, how can anyone reject such an offer?

True Cost of Cutting Corners

Both the West Virgina coal mining disaster and the Gulf oil spill prove that there are devastating consequences to cutting corners. 

Scientists are only beginning to investigate the devastating effects of the British Petroleum (BP) massive oil spill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee heard from experts on May 21 about the thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf.

Critics argue that the cleanup has been ineffective.  The blame extends to both the oil company and the government.   The Obama administration approved BP’s Gulf drilling bid in February 2009.

ABC News reported on April 29, “The massive oil spill off the Gulf coast has complicated President Barack Obama’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in areas long out of bounds to energy development, forcing administration officials to promise a more critical look at the potential environmental risks.”

According to a May 21 CNN report, “This is not just a regional issue for the wildlife,” said Carl Safina, the president of the Blue Ocean Institute. Noting common migratory patterns, he warned that multiple forms of marine life from across the Atlantic Ocean “come into the Gulf to breed.”

An independent expert, University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Bea has been interviewing those involved and giving them confidentiality in exchange for their candor.  He said on NBC Nightly News May 21 that this accident was preventable.  Bea has 50 years of experience in the oil industry.  He says that safety was compromised due to improper well design and missed early warning signs of kicks of gas among other things.  Bea said, “Drilling and well completion operations did not meet industry standards.”  Bea says these bad decisions were designed to save time and money at the expense of safety. 

Just like the April 5 coal miner disaster at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch South Mine in West Virginia, which was the deadliest mining disaster the U.S. has experienced in 25 years, cutting corners proves to have catastrophic consequences. 

Similar to the BP oil spill, authorities will fully investigate what went wrong at the mine, but this particular mine has a history of safety violations.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations over the past five years.  Massey Energy reportedly contested 422 of those violations, but paid $742,830 in fines.

The Associated Press reported that just last year “federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment.”

There is little debate that offshore drilling is almost as dangerous as coal mining for the workers involved. The risky work environment for both jobs is rewarded with lucrative pay.  Workers earn far more than they could make in other positions.  While they knowingly accept the risk, the corporations employing them have an ethical and legal obligation to provide a safe environment that complies with existing government guidelines. 

We must not forget the severity of these recent and ongoing tragedies and honor their victims by tirelessly working to make sure that mines are safer and oil drilling safety standards are enforced.

Critical thinkers must ask, what is the point of having safety standards if they are not followed and enforced?  While there are those that call for a bigger government, what we need is an effective government.