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Old Tricks Used Unsuccessfully to Combat Oil Spill


For over a month, a BP caused disaster has been plaguing the Gulf Coast, and United States politicians have come under fire for failing to respond quickly enough to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. They have launched blame back at oil company executives. During Tuesday's congressional hearings, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D) railed against "cookie cutter" oil spill response plans that are similar to, and do not improve upon BP's current plans in the Gulf of Mexico. Others demanded everything from apologies to financial arrangements.

The oil spill was originally reported by BP to be leaking approximately 5,000 barrels of oil a day, a figure which many now think was a deliberate underestimation of the actual leak, estimated to actually be between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. Representative Edward J. Markey (D) said that BP's "low-balling" was "either deliberate deception or gross incompetence." Chairman and president of BP America Inc., Lamar McKay, responded saying, "We are sorry for everything the Gulf Coast is going through," but avoiding responsibility for claims that the Company was responsible for the early, inaccurate estimates.

McKay, however, did not win many congressmen over. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R) even called for McKay to resign saying, "I really think in light of the performance of you as the CEO and what has occurred, I really think you should be resigning as chairman of BP America." To this request, McKay kept silent.

People want to see evidence that the oil drilling industry has improved its safety and clean-up technologies as a result of past mistakes, rather than simply the ability to drill deeper, creating problems that are harder to solve with no new innovations for solving them. Unfortunately, it seems as if strategies for coping with such a disaster have not been improved upon in decades, despite subsequent contamination episodes. Failed methods for controlling the current leak in the Gulf of Mexico have been tried before during the 1979 Ixtoc spill (also in the Gulf).

Rep. Lois Capps (D) also brought up the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, pointing out that the boom used then is hardly distinguishable from the booms being used today. "I don't see a lot of difference in technology between cleanup in Santa Barbara and the cleanup now underway in the gulf," Capps said.

Responses to this disaster have been more bi-partisan than many issues our country has faced recently, particularly in the affected region. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers from the Gulf Coast have teamed up to try to get deep-water drilling underway again. President Obama enacted a six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling, pending the results of the presidential panel's investigation into ways that a similar disaster could be prevented in the future.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R) said that enacting the moratorium on drilling was akin to "taking a jackhammer to the bedrock of the Louisiana economy," highlighting all the Americans in the region who depend upon energy production for jobs and livelihoods.

Democrats in the senate also called on BP to "refrain from setting aside any funds for a dividend payment until the amount of the damages related to the oil spill can be estimated and the company has established an escrow account to cover those costs."

Additionally, legislation was introduced on Tuesday that would require oil companies to drill emergency relief wells at all new offshore drilling sites.


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