Time for a Little Perspective on Oil Spills

James Simpsonby James M. Simpson on July 2, 2010 (see at its source in DCExaminer)

The Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 men and a large amount of oil has been released into the Gulf of Mexico, some of the most important fishing grounds in the U.S. As a result, the Gulf coast economic outlook is not good for the near future, especially with the current recession. This is a terrible tragedy, no doubt, but the media hysteria is nonetheless overblown, and to claim that it spells the end of a way of life for many Gulf residents is questionable at best. Oil discharges of equal or greater magnitude have occurred over the past century with little or no long term consequences.

This blowout began on April 20th. According to the most recent flow-rate estimates of the gusher, it exceeded the Exxon Valdez spill, which released 259,000 barrels of oil, within the first week. It is interesting to note that Hurricane Katrina caused the release of approximately 167,000 barrels of oil from broken pipelines, storage tanks and industrial plants, according to the Coast Guard. There was not much environmental damage reported from these leaks, which presumably would have affected the same waters.

But these incidents are dwarfed by the 1979 Gulf of Mexico Pemex/Ixtoc I Oil blowout, until now, the largest accidental oil discharge in history. It lasted almost ten months, releasing between ten and thirty thousand barrels per day (BPD). In total it released approximately 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf.
Using the current upper end estimate of 60,000 BPD, the Deepwater Horizon blowout has now surpassed Pemex, so it can rightfully claim its place as record holder for accidental oil discharges. But it is still dwarfed by Saddam Hussein’s deliberate release of somewhere between 5.7 and 11 million barrels from tankers ten miles off the Kuwaiti coast.
While the Pemex blowout affected 162 miles of coastline in Texas and Mexico, the long-term environmental consequences were negligible. As one marine biologist put it:
To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades. … But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again.
The deliberate release orchestrated by Saddam was the largest single man-made oil discharge in history, but we hear nary a peep from sanctimonious Leftist environmentalists about damage there. Why not?

But by far the worst discharges of oil came in the opening months of World War II, when German U-Boats off the north Atlantic coast sunk 452 oil tankers carrying approximately 29.4 million barrels. The huge amount of oil released from those sunken tankers had no serious long term environmental impacts that we know of. For the Gulf blowout to leak this much oil, it would have to spew 60,000 barrels per day for 490 days.

I don’t trust the Union of Concerned Scientists exactly, but the Left can’t fault me for using them as a source. They claim accidental discharges around the world equal about 1 billion gallons, or almost 24 million barrels annually. This is similar to the amount released from vessels sunk by U-Boats in WW II as described above, every year.

I am no oil expert, and am not trying to downplay the severity of the Gulf blowout. But I have talked with experts, and they agree. This oil leak will cause damage in the near term, but is not likely to cause the kind of cataclysmic long-term damage projected by the news media.

The hysteria seems to be of a piece with everything the Obama administration and Congress have been up to for the past two years. This crisis has been hyped to provide Obama with the pretext he needs to cynically promote “Cap and Trade” – legislation certain to wreak havoc on our tottering economy while working against satisfying our energy needs. And never one to overlook an opportunity to milk the private sector, Obama also used the crisis to put his jackboot on yet another industry. And yes, his demand for a $20 billion “aid” fund was a shakedown. Where in the Constitution does the President have such despotic authority?

And while he bludgeons the oil industry with fines, promises of stringent regulations, and attempts a shutdown of all offshore drilling operations – actions only guaranteed to prolong the suffering of Gulf residents – Obama has refused to waive the Jones Act and other restrictions. Doing so would have allowed foreign companies, particularly the Dutch, to offer their cutting-edge equipment in containing most of the oil immediately, a move which could have virtually eliminated the threat to the delicate Gulf ecosystem. Additionally, other bureaucratic roadblocks have hampered efforts, roadblocks that Obama could easily lift if he ever decided to use his executive authority properly, including:

  • missed opportunities to burn off more of the oil because of overblown air pollution concerns
  • holdups in the use of dispersants
  • permit delays in allowing the state of Louisiana to create artificial barriers against the encroaching oil slick
  • and failure to approve barges and booms in time to block oil from reaching Alabama’s Magnolia River.

Meanwhile, Obama has done nothing to stop his benefactor, George Soros from moving forward with his Brazilian offshore drilling project, funded with $10 billion in U.S. tax dollars courtesy Obama. Not a squeak about this from the media of course. These people are such despicable hypocrites!

Finally, some have also claimed that reduced oil output will have a calamitous effect on gasoline prices. The 60,000 BPD lost in this leak represents less than 0.08 percent of the 73 million BPD produced worldwide. This supply disruption would normally not even register on the world spot oil market where prices are determined. Yet the Obama administration’s heavy-handed regulatory overkill may yet drive up prices anyway if the market anticipates extensive long-term regulation-driven supply disruptions.

Putting it as politely as possible, the reckless corruption and ineptitude of this administration knows no bounds. There is nothing to be said for this carnival of clowns except that they must be voted out of office as soon as possible, followed immediately by a nationwide RICO investigation into their extensive, willfully destructive, corrupt activities. It seems apparent that nothing will stop these people short of jail.

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