On April 20, BP’s offshore oil-rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers are missing, presumed dead, while 17 more were injured. The ensuing pipeline breach has garnered extensive media attention, as around 210,000 gallons of oil a day gush into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying local wildlife and the fishing industry.
Louisiana, responsible for a third of the country’s fish catch, are already seeing massive loss of marine-life as the oil sheen enters the South Pass, a major channel for fishing. In addition to the loss of marine life, oil threatens to destroy the wetlands, making states more vulnerable to events such as Hurricane Katrina – especially if currents push the oil further up the East Coast.
This disaster has thrown the relationship between government and big business into stark relief, as US President Barack Obama continues to plummet in opinion polls. Sections of the environmentalist movement had placed faith in Obama as a progressive candidate, hoping to see an end to the Bush administration’s dismal environmental record.
However, Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Interior betrayed other motives. The Department of the Interior is charged with managing and conserving federal land in the US, including offshore energy projects such as Deepwater Horizon. The man appointed to this position, Colarado Senator Ken Salazar, has repeatedly clashed with the environmental movement – and voted against limitations in offshore drilling.
The administration continues to stress its commitment to lifting moratoriums on off-shore drilling. On April the 30th, over a week after the initial spill, Obama finally held a press-conference on the spill, offering nothing conclusive to those affected by the spill, while echoing BP’s position that the spill was “unforeseeable.”
However, experts argue that not only was the spill foreseeable, there were prevention methods available. Mike Papantonio, an environmental attorney, highlights the acoustic-switch system, which stops the oil at the source. While big oil companies successfully lobbied against the acoustic-switch system in the US, arguing $50,000 was too much of an investment, the technology is mandated elsewhere. Because of such insufficient regulations, offshore oil workers in the US are four times more likely to be killed in industrial accidents than offshore oil workers in Europe.
While the Obama administration is slow to respond, BP is clearly investing in media management. A quick glance at their website reveals a daily stream of press statements which – in a phenomenon comparable to Telecom’s public relations effort during the recent XT network breakdowns – emphasise the response of the company rather than the cause of the problem.
Under the heading “Gulf of Mexico response,” BP claims to be siphoning 2,000 barrels of oil a day into drillship Discoverer Enterprise. However, BP has been known to distort figures. While they originally claimed that 42,000 gallons of oil a day were gushing from the pipeline, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association revealed it was closer to 210,000. In a video posted on the World Socialist Web Site, John Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network points out that while BP claims to have deployed 1000 people and 50 vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, he “could count the actual number [of vessels] on one hand.”
Also on that video, a commercial fisherman argues that the fishermen and women of the East Coast need to “pull together” and agree on a course of action. While this isolated sentiment doesn’t match the current level of organization in the US, this may change as workers are forced to take control of their situation – not only in the fishing industry, but in the energy sector too. Workers on oil-rigs must band together to fight for safety on the job; the technology already exists to prevent disasters like this.
Ultimately, the continued exposure of the Obama administration before the working class can only be a positive. Once workers take energy production out of the hands of government and capitalists, it can be democratically planned to meet social and environmental targets.