Environmentalists also share Gulf blame

May 28, 2010


— Here’s my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?

Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama’s tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we’ve had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So we go deep, ultra deep — to such a technological frontier that no precedent exists for the April 20 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

There will always be catastrophic oil spills. You make them as rare as humanly possible, but where would you rather have one: in the Gulf of Mexico, upon which thousands depend for their livelihood, or in the Arctic, where there are practically no people? All spills seriously damage wildlife. That’s a given. But why have we pushed the drilling from the barren to the populated, from the remote wilderness to a center of fishing, shipping, tourism and recreation?

Not that the environmentalists are the only ones to blame. Not by far. But it is odd that they’ve escaped any mention at all.

The other culprits are pretty obvious. It starts with BP, which seems not only to have had an amazing string of perfect-storm engineering lapses but no contingencies to deal with a catastrophic system failure.

However, the railing against BP for its performance since the accident is harder to understand. I attribute no virtue to BP, just self-interest. What possible interest can it have to do anything but cap the well as quickly as possible? Every day that oil is spilled means millions more in losses, cleanup and restitution.

Federal officials who rage against BP would like to deflect attention from their own role in this disaster. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department’s laxity in environmental permitting and safety oversight renders it among the many bearing responsibility, expresses outrage at BP’s inability to stop the leak, and even threatens to “push them out of the way.”

“To replace them with what?” asked the estimable, admirably candid Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander. No one has the assets and expertise of BP. The federal government can fight wars, conduct a census and hand out billions in earmarks, but it has not a clue how to cap a one-mile-deep out-of-control oil well.

Obama didn’t help much with his finger-pointing Rose Garden speech in which he denounced finger-pointing, then proceeded to blame everyone but himself. Even the grace note of admitting some federal responsibility turned sour when he reflexively added that these problems have been going on “for a decade or more” — translation: Bush did it — while, in contrast, his own Interior secretary had worked diligently to solve the problem “from the day he took office.”

Really? Why hadn’t we heard a thing about this? What about the September 2009 letter from Obama’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accusing Interior’s Minerals Management Service of understating the “risk and impacts” of a major oil spill? When you get a blowout 15 months into your administration, and your own Interior Department had given BP a “categorical” environmental exemption in April 2009, the buck stops.

In the end, speeches will make no difference. If BP can cap the well in time to prevent an absolute calamity in the Gulf, the president will escape politically. If it doesn’t — if the gusher isn’t stopped before the relief wells are completed in August — it will become Obama’s Katrina.

That will be unfair, because Obama is no more responsible for the damage caused by this than Bush was for the damage caused by Katrina. But that’s the nature of American politics and its presidential cult of personality: We expect our presidents to play Superman. Helplessness, however undeniable, is no defense.

Moreover, Obama has never been overly modest about his own powers. Two years ago next week, he declared that history will mark his ascent to the presidency as the moment when “our planet began to heal” and “the rise of the oceans began to slow.”

Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute, you mustn’t be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. letters@charleskrauthammer.com


ilikestuff 7 years, 8 months ago

The entire paradigm including industry leaders, regulators, legislators &, gasp, even the President are rot w/corruption. If one figures out how to “cap” exorbitant greed & power mongering it’ll be immeasurably easier to heat homes & drive SUVs w/o drilling for oil a mile under the sea or importing it from a guy whose religious fervor…

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 8 months ago

Tom hasn't paid off all of his bets that Obama would never, ever, ever, ever be elected president. Now Obama will never ever ever ever be re-elected. Send him back to the corner with the other 2-year olds.

whats_going_on 7 years, 8 months ago

actually, last time I read it had been going down because of the forcasted European financial disaster.

geekin_topekan 7 years, 8 months ago

Berry, you are going to create a cloud of smug, the likes we have never before. Between your incessant posting of nonsense, George Clooney's acceptance speech, your Preeeus, all you need do now is talk with your eyes closed and you've created the perfect storm!

Please, no gay little songs.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 8 months ago

How did we ever land on the moon with politicians running amuck?

I actually thought Krauthammer was going to write his first decent article and then he turned evil again.

What happened to all the great talent and common sense that made this country great?

Did our politicians and columnists kill them all off?

whats_going_on 7 years, 8 months ago

"What happened to all the great talent and common sense that made this country great?

Did our politicians and columnists kill them all off?"

Darth Vadar style

true_patriot 7 years, 8 months ago

Relying on Krauthammer for anything meaningful is pointless. His main thesis is nonsense. The problem is that the oil industry has bought itself an oversight-free environment to make the largest profits in the history of human civilization. It's been this way basically since prior to World War II, thought it took a huge turn for the worse during the Bush regime, when Dick Cheney allowed the energy industry to write America's energy policy and the GOP controlled Congress passed laws guaranteeing no real oversight. Those laws need to be changed ASAP.

I do agree that the government doesn't have the technology for this stuff, industry does, and it should remain that way. Government's role is to provide oversight before the disaster happens and to provide planning (the moon mission is a great example of how public money and government administration working with the private sector produce incredible benefits that are still creating value for us even today).

Two immediate ideas that come to mind are:

  1. Begin requiring relief wells (the only truly effective solution to dealing with blowouts) to be drilled at the same time the main well is drilled like they do in Canada - if there is a blowout, the relief well is already drilled.

  2. Have all the oil companies pay slight taxes on their massive profits to go into a pool to purchase technology and equipment created and maintained by the private sector that would then be used in the event of a disaster.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 8 months ago

The idea of Obama wearing a "Superman" suit is a side-splitter. Super Ego perhaps, but not Superman. Obama would have been ideal for the "98-pound weakling" ads of yore where the wimp on the beach gets sand kicked in his face - the only difference being that the poor guy on the beach didn't deserve it, while Obama has brought it on himself in spectacular fashion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

"So we go deep, ultra deep"

Who's went deep? Did "we" really go deep? No, in this disaster, BP went deep, and they were obviously ill-prepared to do so.

But out of Chuck's latest idiotic screed, there does come an interesting possible conspiracy theory-- BP sabotaged this facility so that folks like Krauthammer could blame it on the environmentlists' preventing the oil companies from lining our entire coastline with oil rigs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

Well, so far there is no available evidence indicating that BP sabotaged this oil well.

But Krauthammer sure is trying to blame it on environmentalists.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago


Please, everyone, note the propaganda being spewed upon you:

"There will always be catastrophic oil spills. You make them as rare as humanly possible"

Both assertions are lies.

Robert Rauktis 7 years, 8 months ago

Look in the mirror...the problem is us.

As long as there is flagrant energy use in the US, the pandering pols just do as ordered. It's a democracy after all. The illusion of free energy is the culprit, shared by every God-fearing American.

Maybe let gas go to $5.00 and Big Macs to $10.00 and there would be sensible energy use and waistlines. Until then sprawl and obesity will happen because it can.

Liberty275 7 years, 8 months ago

Gasoline - $3 a gallon Electricity - 120/month Gas - $40 a month (more during winter)

I don't see an illusion of free, then again I don't fear fairy tales.

Maybe let gas go to $5.00 and Big Macs to $10.00

Meh. The market sets the prices. Whatever it costs is what it costs.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

Unless you are in the oil industry and then your liability for your negligence is capped and transferred to the public.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

The Iraq War will eventually cost at least $3 trillion (and counting.) Are you really trying to tell us that the price of that war is included in the price of gasoline (and other petroleum products?)

Liberty275 7 years, 8 months ago

LOL. peak oil, peal oil, peak oil.

You are a one-trick pony.

Mixolydian 7 years, 8 months ago

Krauthammer is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, I doubt he'll be walking or biking soon.

whats_going_on 7 years, 8 months ago

well you sure want the government to take over now since your blessed big oil has failed.

Thats what I don't get...everyone is crying and whining because Obama isn't doing anything (what CAN he do, plug it with the white house furniture?), yet the same people don't want government involved. So which is it?

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

"That will be unfair, because Obama is no more responsible for the damage caused by this than Bush was for the damage caused by Katrina."

More propaganda. The two situations are not comparable and the responses from our government have been diametrically different. The only common element is the wide spread harm suffered from the disasters.

By the way, when will we be hearing about God causing this disaster to punish all the homos living along the Gulf Coast? Seems a good way for the wingers to distract some of the public from the true culprits and I am surprised we have not yet heard it.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

I wonder how campaign finance ties in to that inability to wean off oil. I cannot watch TV without experiencing massive propaganda/advertisement from the oil and gas industry. The influence they purchase in DC certainly bears on the path we've "chosen" (or failed to chose) to take. Perhaps correction of that ability to control the agenda would produce a better result. But then we have a majority of right wingers on the Supreme Court who dictate corporations have the same rights as a human being. How will that part of the equation be changed?

Liberty275 7 years, 8 months ago

"I cannot watch TV without experiencing massive propaganda/advertisement from the oil and gas industry"

And paying money to the coal-fired electric industry.

Moral: if you are unhappy with the energy lobby, quit using their products. Of course, when you read this and realize your hypocrisy you'll be turning off your computer, so I don't expect a reply.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

And I pay extra for the privilege of getting my electricity from a greener source than coal, so I am perfectly able to reply and point out that nothing you offered negates the control the dirty oil/gas/coal industry has over our nation's energy policies.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 8 months ago

Who takes Krauthammer seriously anymore?

Probably the same people that take Glenn Beck seriously. You know, the guy in the Nazi uniform.

This is silly stuff.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

Propaganda works.

Witness the millions of Americans who vote against their economic interests and support right wing candidates.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

"Here’s my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?

Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there."

Here's an alternative explanation: Because, we've already extracted most of the oil that was easy to get to.

booyalab 7 years, 8 months ago

Right, if by "easy" you mean legal. He mentions that.

ralphralph 7 years, 8 months ago

My Question: Why are they dispersing the oil instead of concentrating it and burning it in place?

The only answer I can see is that it would make the scope of the disaster more obvious to everyone. By spreading the oil out under the surface, BP can make it look like not that much is happening, and maybe it's just a bunch of backwards Louisiana fishermen being affected ... certainly not the whole planet. A big smoke plume in the air would show that it IS the whole planet being affected. Nevertheless, even with the oil hidden under the surface, this is a GLOBAL disaster, not just a local one. The primary effect is on the environment of the Gulf, but those waters and the life in them are interconnected with the Caribbean and the Atlantic. We'll have to see if BP has spread enough poisonous dispersant into the spill to keep the people in Florida from noticing the oil when it gets there.

This is really just starting, and the clean up is an unimaginably huge project. It would have been painful but preferable to burn the oil on site.

kansanbygrace 7 years, 8 months ago

Well, Ralphralph, I was wondering why the oil shippers don't bring in the super-tankers with the super pumps just like those used in the western Gulf, the Santa Barbara spill, and the Persian Gulf blowout, suck up the oil and separate it and refine it, instead of wasting it or converting it with the most toxic dispersant available to pollute the North Atlantic fisheries. (The Gulf has been toxic for two or three decades, with most of the Alabama shrimpers going clear south of Cuba for clean and edible shrimp, etc.)
There have been over a thousand leaks and blowouts, and the industry still takes their bonuses to invest in Dubai while they refuse to develop their own industry's technology.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 8 months ago

Kraut needs someone to hit the blow-out preventer button on his rant this time--the crude has spilled out of control for long enough on this guy.

What's patently overlooked by Kraut is that the MMS was notified in 2004 about the failure of the blowout preventer (BOP) technology, and did nothing about it. They were told back at the beginning of the Bush 2 second term that it wouldn't cut through pipe joints and that it wouldn't operate 50 percent of the time at those depths anyway. Furthermore, neither BP or the manufacturer made this particular one functional--it had an essential part of it that was merely a test part and couldn't work, while the hydraulics were so leaky that it couldn't work even if the right parts were put in.

Bush, Cheney and the oil execs who bankrolled them consciously gutted the regulations, neglected the oversight agency, and ignored what warning signals that got through anyway. Cheney's Haliburton was responsible for sealing the well with cement, used some untried experimental mix, then pulled the mud out from on top before it had a chance to set up.

And somehow it is Obama's Katrina??? How about Bush's Pollution: BP

jafs 7 years, 8 months ago

Yes, politicians are fallible and often corrupt.

As are many in the private sector - why do you think it's better?

Scott Drummond 7 years, 8 months ago

Oh, they're not part of any plan I have.

When your governing philosophy is that government cannot, or should not, act effectively in the common interest, then it is hardly a surprise when you act to undermine the effectiveness of government. The question is whether the current generations will be fooled again.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 8 months ago

Very cute, "liberty." I suppose you think it would have been fine for BP to drill without any regulations at all and this would have never happened. Isn't that how it works in Somalia, where there is no functional government, let alone burdensome regulations?

Libertarians like you externalize the costs of your "freedom" and pretend its not your problem. Ask your mom if she externalized your cost, then take responsibility for you life and grow up.

pace 7 years, 8 months ago

My god this guy is preaching that spills in the artic won't hurt nuttin. Well that is so stupid it makes a rock look smart. One of the effects of the giant spill of soldiers blood, ( precious petroleum energy) is that it will affect our weather patterns.

BigAl 7 years, 8 months ago

Rush Limbaugh beat him to the "environmentalists" theory but Kraut is getting the right-wing talking points down. However, he has a ways to go because he forgot to blame the "lamestream" media and "Hollywood".

BigAl 7 years, 8 months ago

I have to admit, I really don't remember any "environmentalists" at a "Drill, baby, Drill" gathering? I must have missed that.

Jaylee 7 years, 8 months ago

Wow, could not disagree more with the general thought behind this one!!!

Environmentalists were not saying, "Go drill somewhere else." They wanted alternative energies to be implemented and people to quit being so wasteful.

What a ridiculous and off-mark assumption to make!

hwarangdo 7 years, 8 months ago

I don't want to sound hollywood, but suggest to watch On Deadly Ground/Steven Seagal ... a story about "faulty regulators/preventors" on an oil well and all the collateral that goes with it. Sure, it is a movie ... but there are always relevant things in movies.

Secondly, the blame game didn't take long to turn on environmentalists ... it is what is expected from the flat earth / no global warming / no moon landing misfits.

Thirdly, (can you count that far?) there was another oil spill in the gulf many years ago, not sure what year - google it for yourself) and there wasn't nearly the hype and blame game crap going on then. Only thing is whatever they tried then didn't work to stop it, and the OIL INDUSTRY has not come up with any new preventive ways to stop such things, nor to treat them if they happen. What's wrong with that picture? Who's in bed with whom? And does anyone realize we are all being played by the oil industry and the politicians. No matter who is in the white house, the oil house continues to spew venom at whomever dares challenge their right to drill baby drill.

Fourth, here comes the big one ... the drillee is US (us and the US) and the oil companie$ are the drillers.

By the way, there was a massive solar energy spill this morning! Did anyone see it? It is still going on all day long and will not subside until nightfall ...

KUnlv13 7 years, 8 months ago

BP common at $42/share, down from about $60'ish when this hootinanny began. BUYBUYBUY! Our ADD nation shall forget of this spill, as they have others, and life will remain lucrative for these companies (and their shareholders)

geekin_topekan 7 years, 8 months ago

Overplay, dont forget that Rush says that oil gushing from the sea is a natural earth substance created by nature and it will take care of itself. With that logic, why did nature bury it deep,deep deep within its bowels, never intending for it to see the surface?

P Allen Macfarlane 7 years, 8 months ago

With Krauthammer, it's always somebody else's fault or perhaps their misunderstanding of the "American way".

It's too easy to ignore our wasteful use of energy and blame anybody who might have figured out that energy is limited by our natural resources and the inefficiencies that are inherent in our attempts to use it. Perhaps Mr. Krauthammer should become acquainted with the laws of thermodynamics and the law of conservation of energy.

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