Venice, LA – I’m down at the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico or what for now is the Gulf of Mexico.  Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and oil spill expert flew over the gulf Wednesday morning and said, “It’s not the Gulf of Mexico any more. It’s the gulf of oil.”

Rick’s been helping governments respond to oil spills for the past 30 years (an unusually prescient career choice).  A resident of Cordova, AK he found a spill in his front yard in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

“Right after the Valdez spill, someone told me, ‘Lawyers still to be born will be litigating this spill.’  I laughed at him, but he was right.  It’s been 21 years and the litigation between the federal government and Exxon is still not over.”

The fact that people who lost their livelihoods in the Exxon spill waited 20 years before they saw a nickel of compensation from Exxon is not happy news here, but Rick pulls no punches and gives straight answers.  It’s as welcome – and as rare – as a cool breeze in Louisiana.

“The executives at BP must be reading the Exxon spill response playbook because they’re doing exactly what Exxon did,” he said.  For those of you without access to the oily inner sancta, the playbook’s rules are these:

1 – Understate the amount of oil spilled.

2 – Understate the environmental damage caused by the oil.

3 – Overstate the effectiveness of your company’s response.

4 – Try to buy off the locals with tiny amounts of money (BP is offering $5,000 each to coastal residents in Mississippi) in exchange for waivers promising not to sue for damages.

5 – Slap gag orders on anyone doing business with the corporation.  (Fishermen who want work from BP in the cleanup efforts have to agree in writing not to speak to the media.  The gag orders are legally meaningless; it’s the intimidation factor that counts.)

Following the guidance of point three, BP has strung miles of bright orange boom everywhere there’s a tee vee camera.  As if booms are some kind of magic wand.  Booms are useless unless skimmers pick up the oil they collect and no one has seen any skimmers.  Beyond that, the oil from the spill is bubbling up from a mile below the ocean.  By the time it gets to the surface, it’s so thoroughly mixed with water it just slips under the booms.

Nonetheless, BP had a couple hundred shrimp boats on the gulf Wednesday, trolling booms back and forth.  It’s not an oil spill response, it’s Response Theater.  As Rick points out, in the best of circumstances (and we’re very far from that in the gulf) only ten percent of the oil is ever recovered.  In the Exxon spill, after $2 billion, three summers with 1,000 boats and 13,000 workers, only five to seven percent of the oil was recovered.

One worry here is that the massive spill – which may spew oil for many weeks to come – will slip around the Florida peninsula and be carried up the east coast by the gulf stream.  At the Exxon spill, which entailed a heavier grade of crude in the much more closed Prince William Sound, the oil was carried 800 miles down the Alaskan coast.  There are several countervailing currents in the gulf, at all depths and of course, this oil is moving at every depth the gulf has.  No one can predict where it will go.

“There’s never been a successful response to a marine oil spill.  Ever.” Rick said.  “We’re addicted to oil and like any addict, we are taking larger and larger risks to get our fix and the consequences are more and more disastrous.”

So what’s the solution?  Break the addiction.  We have to stop drilling in the ocean.  The results are too catastrophic.  Instead of reading from cue cards prepared for him by oil lobbyists, Barack Obama has to shift our government’s energy policy to privilege efficiency and clean renewables over fossil fuels.  Not only will that prevent the next marine tragedy, but it’s our only chance of arresting global warming before we burn our species off the planet.

© Mark Floegel, 2010


  • This is Cynthia from ExxonMobil. I wanted to take issue with one of the points you raise related to compensation. I want to start by saying the 1989 Valdez accident was one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil’s 125-year history. However, we took immediate responsibility for the spill and have spent over $4.3 billion as a result of the accident, including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines.
    The company voluntarily compensated more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses within a year of the spill.
    Virtually all Valdez compensatory — actual — damages were paid in full within one year of the accident, and the trial court commended ExxonMobil for coming forward “with its people and its pocketbook and doing what had to be done under difficult circumstances.”

  • Ms. Bergman –

    I don’t know if you’re one of ExxonMobil’s professional obfuscators or if you’ve merely drunk too much of your corporation’s oily Kool-Aid, but you’re wrong.

    ExxonMobil fought the verdict against it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and managed to get the judgment knocked down to ten cents on the dollar. That decision came 20 years and 90 days after the Exxon spill. Twenty percent of the plaintiffs died before they saw any money from Exxon. Thousands more were forced into bankruptcy. You must be so proud.

    I find it interesting you only contested one of my points. That must be an admission that Exxon’s playbook was to 1 – understate the spill 2 – understate the damage 3 – overstate the response 4 – try to buy off potential plaintiffs for a pittance and 5 – slap gag orders on everyone.

    But then, we already knew that.

    Mark Floegel

  • I say let us use all the energy we have in trying to figure out how to wean ourselves away from oil and gas and place all that energy in developing a new CLEAN alternative instead of arguing. We are never going to change this dynamic by argument. Oil companies want to make money, they are not doing this for fun, and people need energy – now having said that the logic is “How and what do we do next?” Let’s get started NOW!

  • I moved to New Orleans in 1982 to work in the oilfield as a deckhand on Supply Boats. It was booming and I wish I could find out the exact numbers on how many people were employed back then, just in La & Tx. If we had the production now that we had then, there woulda been thousands upon thousands that could have responded immediately. As for boats, wow, there were so many boats coming & going in & out of docks, I’m sure there coulda been 100 on the scene within 2 hours of this disaster. And hundreds more within a day.
    So I disagree. I believe if we ramped up production, put 2 million people to work, trained in safety, emergency, cleanup, containment & HAZMAT, etc etc. Then this would have never gotten out of hand.
    Youve been doing this for 30 years then why arent you in charge of the containment & cleanup operations? I agree with the fact they arent doing enough, I FINALLY saw a Coast Guard skimmer on Monday, but thats it. Just 1?
    The shrimp boats arent skimming they are just swishing it around with booms. NOBODY seems to be actually REMOVING any of the oil.
    I came up with 2 simple skimmers that would work, 1 using shrimp boats, another is just a barge & tug. SIMPLE solutions. But alas nobodys gonna see em, let alone use them. It seems EVERYONE has thier own “playbook” here.
    The Oil co’s, the Govt. (thier playbook is easy, hold congressional hearings that just piss everyone off, but make us politicians look like … we care)
    As for your “solution” break the addiction…… its not an addiction, dope, its NECESSARY!, How will you insulate wire?, where does asphalt come from?
    Think of all the plastic stuff used to make MEDICAL supplies. Jeez the list is just to long. We will NEVER be able to live without oil, like it or not.
    Now, I do believe we WASTE alot of it. Bottled water for god sake, thats one that could go today imho. Companies making ALOT more than the “BIG OIL” boys. Nobody bitchin at them for making $1 on 12 or 16 ounces of water in a container made from OIL. Wheres the outrage? The same water you get from a faucet for less than 1/10th of a penney, theyre charging $3 for at entertainment venues.
    Lets go back to GLASS, & WAX PAPER cartons. Remember milk? used to come in 1/2 gallon wax/paper cartons, biodegradable & cheap. Hell I buy Smuckers JUST because, they still use glass. What we need to do, is UNspoil ourselves.
    We Americans are some spoiled rotten little pukes, aint we? Gotta have it NOW, push of a button, 1 mouse click BLAM, GIVE IT TO ME NOOOOOOW!
    Thats what we need to “BREAK”
    Incidentally, Canada disagrees with you also.

  • i think theres a possibility that if we can successfully boycott BP to a point of submission ,then offer them an alternative,To not only lift the boycott but give them support ,if they could turn to clean energy sources and promote them with the capitol they have as a way to make amends, make the change over and that could put the other oil giants in the position to have to change.or go out of business.

  • Just a thought: If the oil companies were made to pay BILLIONS of dollars in FINES instead of millions of dollars in damages “compensatory-actual damages”, and if that money went to clean-up first but a new and modern power grid which would be wind and solar-ready, then maybe….just maybe….something useful would come out of this disaster. Mind you, we must all look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we want to change our ways badly enough to stop granting licenses to these off-shore drilling companies in the first place.

  • @D. Butler … Just a Thought, then the oil companies would be forced by the *investors* to raise the price of the oil, pass it on to YOU!
    You can boycott all you want, how many times is it gonna take you to figure out, we dont just make gasoline from oil. So they could just refine everything into polys & styrnes & not even make gas.
    I seriously believe we need to change the products we make from it, all these plastic bottles/containers need to STOP! go back to glass & wax paper cartons. Start making decent products from metal again. Plastic is cool, but how many products do ya buy the freaking break, because its cheap plastic? lol like toolboxes, come ON!
    Changing the WAY we use oil, would benefit us more than to just say, no more oil at all. Go back to glass, metal & wax paper cartons.
    They will never stop drilling untill all the greedy people on the planet are dead.
    Investors that could care less about WHAT they invest in, as long as there is ROI, then, oil is good for them. They arent reall “oil people” but they still drive the “Big Oil Machine”
    Im afraid that the thinkin of BP (& everyone up top) basically, the amount of oil leaking, is miniscule campared to the amount of water it has to cover. if it was to spread out across the entire gulf, then the damage, wouldnt amount to much. Thats why the BP guy said this was a “tiny” thing. the GOM is quite a bit bigger than PWS & this so far still inst as much oil as the Valdez spilled (yet). In the end, GOD WILLING, it wont be as bad as the fearmongerers are wailing about!

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