Oil spill, sensationalism distorts reality

by Ginosar  

I am not a friend of big oil, and I am environmentalist by profession and heart, but I look for facts before I decide on a situation. Not so the media and Congress. Their livelihood is based on sensationalism.


I was watching the CNN review of the Congressional heating of the oil spill in the Gulf. Senator Frank Lautenberg of NJ started by gently attacking the three executives of the companies involved, the parent company BP (British petroleum), then the owner and operator of the Oil rig, and then the company responsible for the shut off valve at the sea floor. The three where asked who is responsible for the spill, they all said: we need to find the facts first, what failed, when it failed and so forth.

The CNN commentator laughed at the answers and said: you see they blame each other. Not so fast, they did not, they said let wait for facts. Why? Because billions of dollars are involved and because detail investigation and subsequent legal negotiation will determine who will pay what portion of the cost. First, no one know the full facts of this complex case, and if they say anything now they will be penalized during later negotiation. It is simply too early for Congressional and media hearing.

These answers are proper and justified and also the normal method used in cases with much lower visibility.


However, Congresspersons and the media- CNN, and surely others in the Media, including blogs, will attack these companies and try to paint them as villains.


They are not villains, they were conducting their normal business. Congress set the rules businesses operate in the country and they follow it as they were making profit for their stock holders. They might have erred by selecting the wrong safety approach, or the equipment did not function as expected. I believe they should have used additional safety rigs to increase safety, and reduce the likelihood of massive leak, but this is after the event. They were typical businesses in the vast global oil industry.


Add to it that the government agency controlling these operation has a close relationship with the oil industry it supervises and at the same time lease land and collect fees from them. As the NYT wrote: "On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he planned to cut the agency that oversees the industry, the Minerals Management Service, in two. One office would be responsible for public safety and environmental enforcement and the other in charge of leasing and revenue."


So, many players are involved, no one wanted this tragedy to happened. Certainly the companies involved will be hurt in the market place and lose money and reputation too.

The governmental safety supervision was weak. And we do not know who did what and when to cause this explosion.


And why are we so mad at the oil industry? Because they have supplied us with ample amount of very low cost oil, cheaper than bottled water?

Should we blame them for not charging also for the CO2 created by using oil? Would we have accepted extra charges willingly? Of course not. President Clinton tried just to add a quarter to the price of a gallon of gasoline and all hell broke loose.

The CIA director in the movie The Tree days of The Condor admonished Robert Redford: what will the people do when suddenly they do not have ample supply of oil? Will they care how we get it for them?

We want, we want, that is our culture. And most of the time we elect and support leaders who follow this approach to life.

 

But just to make it clear, we can not rely on the oil companies to care for the environment. Their key purpose is to make profit, that is the reason they exists. They do cut corners when they can, and do nothing when they can. Only governmnet regulations that are actively monitored can reduce the damage oil and coal extractions actually cause. And for too long our governemt reduced regulations and did have too close relationship with the oil, coal and gas industries. Afterall, they have the money and the power to influence Congress and the Administration too.

Do not trust speaches by the Administration, including the president, or Congress, look for real actions. As the Presisdent said: Trust and verify, so verify that they actually act to save our environment.



Again, back to the sensationalism. We, the majority of the American people, want answers quickly and without any effort. Very few wants to think clearly. The games of Congress and the media shapes so much of our reality that we, the public, jumps to conclusions that were fed to us by sensationalism when we were full of anger at the oil industry. Congress, after presenting anger and admonition, now has free hands to achieve whatever they want to, and often make laws which the lobbyists of the oil industry suggest to them. And these laws would not necessarily be what are in the best inertest of the American people, who are again led down a path of untruth and manipulation.


This, again, is how sensationalism shapes our world views.

 

Comment by a reader:

Mat,

Beautiful.  You covered everything and more.  What is a shame that we don’t we see journalist’s stories and editorials that report what you have just written.  Millions should be reading this in a major newspaper editorial, not a few people who happen to see it on your blog.  This is the sort of thing that Tom Friedman or Paul Krugman might write in the NY Times, but maybe they would have softened it a bit.  I will keep looking for this from them.

I saw the same hearing last night and both my wife and I came to the same conclusion.  What are the facts?  Shouldn’t we know that first before we blame someone.   The CNN reporter showed how each of the companies blames the other, which is par for the course, as you say.

The other thing I have felt for days was the US government was somehow equally liable because it failed to require lots of redundancy to prevent just such an accident.  I didn’t know what that was until I learned about the MMS yesterday and guess what, they have the same conflict of interest that the old AEC and the current FAA have, so safety and promotion are under the same roof.  No mystery there.  What is par for the course on “discoveries” like this is that they are suddenly “discovered” after a terrible accident, and then usually, the feds split the agency in two, so we got the NRC and DOE, but we still have the FAA doing both airline safety and promotion.  The “revolving door” and “cozy relationships” of MMS executives and the energy industry is legend.

So, bottom line, no wonder we can’t get anything meaningful done on energy and the environment in our government and why international climate change agreements are even harder to do.

Oh, the other bit of news that I saw in the Bee today was that nearly half of all Americans polled after this oil spill think we should continue with offshore drilling. I don’t know if they also want more stringent oversight.  But, when you have to go to such depths to get the oil, stuff happens.  It’s a major miracle that we did not see such a big spill in the Gulf before this.

Take Care,

J.


 

 

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