Oil spills and energy production: those that want to find the answers and those that just want to complain

As everyone who’s – ahem – awake knows by now we’re facing a serious problem in the Gulf of Mexico in the form of a oil rig disaster. The rig suffered an explosion, cause currently unknown, that killed 11 of the crew and caused the rig to sink rather quickly for a vessel of its type. Either in the explosion or the sinking, the system designed to shut off the wellhead in such an event failed and we now have a situation where the uncapped well is dumping thousands of barrels of oil into sea daily. As this has been going on for over a week at this point, that’s a huge amount of oil. That’s bad enough but it gets worse.

This particular oil deposit, I’m told, contains a variety of crude oil that’s especially thick and very toxic, so it’s especially damaging to marine life and it’s resistant to efforts at dispersing it. Then, too, is the location. It’s very close to a major city and it’s impacting fishing grounds that are critical to the local economy, to say nothing of the shoreline it’s now come in contact with. There’s just nothing about this whole scenario that’s good and things can get way worse.

The Obama administration tells us they’re going all-out in response to this disaster, although there are precious few details about what, if anything, they’re doing about it. There have been comparisons to Katrina and Obama’s response time to this disaster has been every bit as slow as anything the Bush administration did during Katrina, as even the New York Times reports. But as Brian S. over at Too Conservative has written, it’s way too early to be attacking the administration over what has or hasn’t been done. We have more important things to do and I would urge my fellow conservatives to stay focused on the real issue, here.

The fact of the matter is that we don’t know, yet, what caused that explosion. We don’t know, yet, what caused the rig to sink so quickly when others have stayed afloat for days and weeks when damaged. We don’t know, yet, what caused the safety devices that should have capped the well to fail. If it’s a matter of negligence, of corporate cost-cutting impairing safety protocols, then the people who made those decisions should be investigated and, if found negligent arrested and tried. Every one of them. If they weren’t, but the crew was ignoring directives then we need to find out who among them was guilty of that. The whole story changes, however, if the explosion was an intentional attack. If the capping devices were intentionally sabotaged or impaired, then it’s not a matter of them being inherently unsafe. It’s a matter of someone doing something criminal, possibly an act of war.

The point is, we don’t know. We need to find out. I’m curious that we have heard extremely little about the cause or about efforts to determine the cause. We also need to deal with the immediate matter of capping that well. If BP doesn’t have the gear to get close enough, then do we have military assets that could? Can one of our submarines get in there? How about a remote-operated vehicle (ROV)? Good questions for which very little answering has been done. Again, that’s curious.

I don’t know, yet, what actions the average citizen can take to help out but we all need to be listening carefully to the situation so we can stand ready to assist. It could be a matter of sending money, it might be helping out people put out of work or homes as a result of this. It could be a simple matter of trying to eat less so our food stocks last longer. Who knows? Stay tuned.

There’s a larger issue to this, of course, and it’s impossible that a disaster like this won’t be used to push a political agenda. So be it. There are those who don’t want new drilling offshore. Hell, they don’t want any drilling offshore. To them, this is the case that proves that all oil drilling is so bad that none of it can be tolerated. That the risk is simply too high to ever permit such a thing to be done ever again. I think that’s overreacting, myself, but it bears looking into. The question is simple: if we completely shut off the oil spigot, what do we use for an energy source in its place? The usual, immediate answer to this coming from the folks I’ve referenced is “clean” energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro- and geothermal-electric. Of course, even they are forced to admit that none of those energy sources – indeed, not even all of them combined – can provide enough energy to take up the load handled by the use of petroleum sources.

We’re using hydro-electric pretty much everywhere that’s feasible already and many of those places are under attack by environmentalists who want to remove the dams that make this technology work. Geothermal has demonstrated problems of its own, not the least of which is evidence that deploying it is increasing the risk of inducing an earthquake. Wind power deployment is on the rise, the latest example being the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, finally approved after years of obstruction by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. An even more audacious plan is that of T. Boone Pickens, the PickensPlan. I’m generally a supporter of that project but the best that Pickens’ expert engineers can promise is to take up 20% of America’s current energy load. The idea is to supplant the energy we buy in the form of foreign oil, that’s it. The wind farms proposed by the plan are massive, stretching for hundred of miles through the plains of the United States. You can’t just festoon the country with turbines. There are lots of places in the US that don’t get sufficient wind to make a turbine effective. And then there’s solar. We’ve come a long way in terms of efficiency but it’s still not good enough to make it truly cost effective, yet. And that makes it a mathematical impossibility to put enough solar panels down to take over the load from oil power generation.

All of which means that we need to better develop the technologies. If you’ve been listening to me speak on these matters at all, you know I’ve been saying this for quite a while. Now, these folks who are complaining that we need to put some kind of effort into developing these technologies are saying the same thing, so you’d think we’d be able to talk about it. Well, unfortunately, that seems not to be the case. After making the statement that we need to do this work and hearing a question posed about whether they have any specific suggestions about what to do next, their response is to start flinging the accusations. First comes the ad hominem stuff, suggesting that they know you’re not in agreement with them so you’re clearly not just asking a question or that you’re just not cognizant of the situation for whatever reason. Then comes the denials that they’re making any such statement and that the only reason you’d think that is that you’re firmly ensconced in some right-wing echo chamber. Then comes the schoolyard approach of refusing to answer the question and demand that you answer it first, in spite of them being the ones who brought the subject up to begin with. All of this gets followed up with suggestions that you’re ignorant of the situation, implying that you’ve got nothing worthy of listening to.

And all because you asked them the question of what they thought we should be doing next. Specifically.

Clearly, there are those who are looking to find answers, or at least help those people who can find the answers and there are those who are just looking to complain and feel superior about it. The fact is there are things the everyday Joe like me can do, whether it’s donating time or talent or money to some effort or deciding to take a risk and investing in a company with a vision. I’m no solar engineer and I can’t crack the chemis
try of crude oil. But I can seek out companies who are and can. I can do the research and write the letters. I can call my elected reps and I can discuss the matter with business associates to raise the awareness of these potential solutions.

Or I can sit there and repeat over and over that someone needs to do these things. I have my suggestions on specific actions and those of you who are in contact with me already either know what they are or can find out soon enough if you’re interested. Either way, I’m done being dismissed by people who can’t even explain themselves. Complain all you like. Just get the hell of the way of those of us trying to get things done.


  1. As long as we are talking energy, the politics surrounding Nuclear Energy are just as twisted.

    I agree it’s too early to leap to any conclusions, but this oil leak is deadly to wild life and crushing to so many economies in the Gulf region. The scope of the devastation is sad.

  2. Yes, ma’am, it is. We need to get it capped as quickly as possible or someone needs to start explaining why we can’t. At this point, we shouldn’t be talking about who’s to blame. Let’s do that after the leak’s plugged.

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