More Dogs on Main
June 4, 2010
The oil is still gushing in the gulf despite top kills and junk shots. The last plan was to have the underwater robots saw off the end of the pipe to get a clean end to work on, and then go back to something that sounds a lot like the first plan. That was the top hat or the big funnel over the end with the ability to pump the oil up to the surface and put it in a tanker. The most recent report I had on it was that the saw blade was bound up and stuck. The robot had put down its tools in frustration and gone out for coffee. No word when it will be back on duty. BP is scouring Angie’s List to find a replacement.
The live video feed from the bottom of the ocean is all over the internet. It makes surprisingly compelling TV. Not that I sat there glued to it or anything, but there was a strange draw to watching the robot trying to un-jam the saw blade. Twist it a little to the left, no, not that far. Now pull up on it while you twist. It was kind of a combination of "This Old House," "Dirty Jobs," and "Mythbusters" all rolled into one, without commercial interruption. There is no audio with it, so it’s impossible to know if the robot is cursing like a Louisiana shrimper with his thumb stuck in the rigging. But you have to assume the robot has resorted to the full range of sheepherder vocabulary by now. If my grandfather were involved in this, the profanity hurled at the stuck saw blade would have been sufficiently blistering to cause the oil to combust under water. That may not be a bad idea.
The oil spill is drawing huge audiences. Cable new shows have it running on a split screen. It may have its own network soon. Nothing much changes, but if trained dolphins come and put a big cork in the pipe, we’ll see it live. A cubicle-dwelling nephew reported that most of the day at his office is spent on discussions of various solutions to the problem, complete with elaborate sketches of Rube Goldberg machines that would strangle the pipe shut. BP ought to have a website where these could be submitted. If the petroleum engineers can’t figure it out, let’s put the readers of "Popular Mechanics" on it. I got my oil changed this week, and the waiting room TV was on the leaking pipe or maybe somebody’s radiator hose, it was kind of hard to tell. At Home Depot, I kept looking at various pipe fittings that might be adapted to plugging off the well. Well, why don’t they just use one of those? I’d ask myself.
The oil is now hitting the shores in Alabama and Mississippi. The summer hurricane season has officially begun, and I suppose with the first big storm, the oil will move up the Mississippi River until it hits St. Paul.
It’s a terrible environmental disaster, perhaps the worst in the nation’s history (except for the arrival of the first European settlers at Jamestown it’s been pretty much downhill since then). There is plenty of outrage going around. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich thinks BP should be forced into court-supervised receivership. I’m not sure what that would do other than slow every decision down. I think the spill has BP’s complete and undivided attention. Others are screaming for BP to be bankrupted, which is a possibility. But again, having them file bankruptcy and hand the keys over to the judge doesn’t seem like a real fix. Executives should be jailed, regulators who didn’t regulate should be fired, jailed, or worse. In the states where they have them, angry people are driving down to the local BP station in their SUVs just to picket the station. Maybe BP is uniquely negligent, or maybe every other oil company is just lucky.
A more meaningful avenue of protest would be to park our cars and boycott oil altogether. That’s impossible in a world that runs on the stuff. There is off-shore drilling because there is demand for oil. We already burned the stuff that was easy to get to. If you think the regulatory system is broken in the U.S., take a look at Nigeria. We really don’t want to know what routinely washes ashore on that coast. Awful as it is, and as much as we all want to see the head of BP’s CEO on a pike, when it comes to real action, the best we can muster is to buy our gas from Chevron instead.
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Sorry SpongeBob, we all really hope the blowout preventer works next time.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.