Words Failed

Growing up as a city girl in the midwest, my introduction to and early education about crude oil and its impact on our society came through watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies.  With every show, the opening spiel told the tale of the poor rural Clampett family’s accidental discovery of oil on their land and the ensuing wealth they enjoyed.

…and up from the ground comes a bubbling crude.  Oil that is.  Black Gold.  Texas T…

The Clampetts’ found so much oil (aka wealth) that a Beverly Hills banker and his secretay run in circles trying to ensure their happiness.  Yes, those were the good-old days.

Well, I never did figure out what Texas T means.  But the idea, that wealth and so many other good things came with that yucky black stuff, was hard to dispute.  Until the Exxon Valdez happened.

When the Valdez ran aground, we all learned lessons about grades of crude and their weight vs water and how that affected their devastating impact on wildlife and the environment.  Many of us watched endless hours of clean up on TV heart sickened by what we were seeing.  Others lost livelihoods and homes. Many traveled from near and far to help with the clean up.

When the BP oil well blew up last week, my heart bled for all those affected as I anxiously listened to reports on the missing, injured and killed.  The first reports of the spill itself were sketchy, but that was to be expected.  Still I had a gut feeling that this was going to be bad.  Every day the particulars of this spill went from bad to worse.  And every day I’ve wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t seem to find the right words.  Then Friday night I read:

Leaked Report: Government Fears Deepwater Horizon Well Could Become Unchecked Gusher

“The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

Asked Friday to comment on the document, NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said that the additional leaks described were reported to the public late Wednesday night. Regarding the possibility of the spill becoming an order of magnitude larger, Smullen said, “I’m letting the document you have speak for itself.”

In scientific circles, an order of magnitude means something is 10 times larger. In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night.

“There is no official change in the volume released but the USCG is no longer stating that the release rate is 1,000 barrels a day,” continues the document, referred to as report No. 12. “Instead they are saying that they are preparing for a worst-case release and bringing all assets to bear.”

And still the words failed to come.

Words failed to express my heartache for those in the gulf region who are having to deal with another environmental disaster.  And that this one is completely manmade is unforgivable.

Words failed to demonstrate my disgust that we are having to learn these environmental lessons all over again.

Words failed to convey my anger that once again our overreaching, elitist enriching, corporate protecting government has underachieved in its task to protect the best interest of the citizenry.

Words failed to reveal my horror at reading from the Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes:

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

And from the Gulf Spill Balloons, Could Move East:

The oil slick over the water’s surface appeared to triple in size over the past two days, which could indicate an increase in the rate that oil is spewing from the well, according to one analysis of images collected from satellites and reviewed by the University of Miami. While it’s hard to judge the volume of oil by satellite because of depth, it does show an indication of change in growth, experts said.

“The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated,” said Hans Graber, executive director of the university’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing. “Clearly, in the last couple of days, there was a big change in the size.”


As bad as the oil spill looks on the surface, it may be only half the problem, said University of California Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea, who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety.

“There’s an equal amount that could be subsurface too,” said Bea, who worked for Shell Oil Co. in the 1960s when the last big northern Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout occurred. And that oil below the surface “is damn near impossible to track.”

Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, worries about a total collapse of the pipe inserted into the well. If that happens, there would be no warning and the resulting gusher could be even more devastating because regulating flow would then be impossible.

From Whistleblower: BP Risks More Massive Catastrophes in Gulf:

The whistleblower, whose name has been withheld at the person’s request because the whistleblower still works in the oil industry and fears retaliation, first raised concerns about safety issues related to BP Atlantis, the world’s largest and deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platform, located about 200 miles south of New Orleans, in November 2008. Atlantis, which began production in October 2007, has the capacity to produce about 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

It was then that the whistleblower… discovered that the drilling platform had been operating without a majority of the engineer-approved documents it needed to run safely, leaving the platform vulnerable to a catastrophic disaster that would far surpass the massive oil spill that began last week following a deadly explosion on a BP-operated drilling rig.

BP’s own internal communications show that company officials were made aware of the issue and feared that the document shortfalls related to Atlantis “could lead to catastrophic operator error” and must be addressed.

And then, as if on cue I heard the President’s voice coming from the TV.  He was giving firm assurances that BP would pay for the clean up.

Suddenly words no longer failed.

The thing that keeps us awake at night, Mr President, isn’t worry over who will pay for this.  It is the knowledge that by under regulating, under monitoring, under sanctioning, under comprehending problems and consequences, and under protecting the resources and interests of the american people —



[Cross posted at No Quarter]


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