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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

I’ve put off writing about the BP catastrophe in the Gulf so I could calm down a bit first.

Spitting mad is not the best state of mind for addressing such a monumental boondoggle as this has proven to be, at least not for the first shot out of the cannon.

Well, I may have calmed down a bit from the early days of the spill, but I’m certainly no less pissed off.



And here’s one reason why.

While the executives of BP might want everybody to think the ongoing, disastrous oil spill in the Gulf is something new under the sun, it turns out that we’ve seen this movie before.




An eerily similar oil rig disaster happened in the Gulf of Mexico back in 1979, although in that case it was a Mexican rig that blew up and burned.

According to a story in The Miami Herald, that spill dumped about 138 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over a nine-month period before two relief wells and a cement cap stopped up the leaking well.

And the similarities are so blatant, so telling, it’s hard to believe we’re watching this rerun.

That’s right, the similarities. The almost EXACT similarities between a spill more than three decades ago and one just over a month ago.

For one thing, guess what caused an oil well to blow up and sink the platform from which the drilling was being done, way back there in 1979?

Give up? It was a malfunctioning “blowout preventer.” Sound familiar?

And guess what tactic the company that owned the Ixtoc I oil rig, the Mexican-run PEMEX gas giant, first tried to contain the fountain of sludge streaming out of the well?

Give up? Mile-long “booms” strung around on the surface of the Gulf; airplanes spraying chemical dispersants; a huge concrete “cap” over the geyser of oil; and the dumping of everything from “junk” to mud on top of the spill site to bury it and stop the flow.

None of that worked, just as it is not working today, and it took PEMEX nine months to complete the relief wells that finally did work.

Again, sound familiar?

So, if we knew 30 years ago that certain tactics simply would not get the job done, why in HELL have we been wasting our time today with the same gambits? Why hasn’t the industry, or the government watchdogs, or SOMEBODY come up with some new ideas over the last 30 years? Why were there not regulations in place calling on the industry to at least draw up plans for such relief wells, and perhaps even partially drill them at the same time as work was done on the main bore? Why, in the name of GOD’s GREEN EARTH, was the company allowed to drill in the first place without first submitting its plans to a thorough review by the relevant government agencies?

Is anybody paying ANY ATTENTION AT ALL?

Oops, sorry. Hope I didn’t get any of my FROTHING, RED-HOT DISGUST on you when I started screaming. So much for not being spitting mad.

It also turns out that there was another, very similar occurrence on the other side of the world just last year.

According to a story in The Miami Herald, in the waters between Australia and Indonesia, “a Thai company’s well blew out in a similar fashion to what occurred in the Gulf of Mexico … The tally of oil that spewed into the ocean from the so-called Montara spill varies from 1.2 million gallons to 9 million gallons. It took 10 weeks and five attempts at drilling relief wells to stop the leak.”

The resulting contamination of the waters and beaches in the region is now being documented, and regional officials are now calling our search for oil and gas a kind of “madness” that must be checked.

The upshot of all this is, we knew about these risks before the Deepwater Horizon rig was even a wet dream in some engineer’s fervid imagination, and we had that knowledge driven home with a sledgehammer less than a year ago.

Why does it always take a disaster of such epic proportions, such as has now hit the Gulf of Mexico not once, but TWICE, to focus attention on all this?

How is it that the industry can continue to portray its critics as alarmists, anti-business dreamers somehow linked to some great socialist conspiracy to destroy the American way of life, and get away with it?

It is corporate arrogance, monopoly capitalism, industrial-strength ignorance and willful disregard of the public’s welfare that is destroying the American way of life, the natural world, and humanity’s future.

And by our silent acquiescence, we let it continue.

jcolson@aspentimes.com