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Words from Winterbilt

The News about the Oil in the Gulf is Not Good

Shannon Bohrer

(July, 2010) Those of you who read my article last month remember the topic was a lack of trust for government and big business. This month's article is a continuation along the same topic with a focus on the news and the big oil spill in the gulf. When I started writing this the spill was 40 days old and I thought - it will be capped before this goes to print. Then again, maybe not.

According to the news the large oil leak in the gulf is threatening our environment. If you recall, when the leak started it was 4,200 gallons of oil a day. Gradually it grew to over 200,000 gallons a day. I am not a math wizard, but 4,200 gallons is not close to 200,000. Did the first person at the news conference write down the wrong number? Maybe they were taking notes and their pen ran out of ink and they had to rely on memory for the numbers. I know that my memory is not as sharp as it once was. Of course there is always the possibility that the oil company was giving out the wrong information… After all, if your company might be responsible for the largest environmental disaster known to man, you may wish to minimize the impact.

While discussing the oil spill with a few of my curmudgeon club friends over coffee, we developed some ideas that could solve the problem. Our best idea – to create a machine that can separate water and oil. I know this sounds pretty complicated, but we think it could be done. If we had such a machine you could just pump in the oil and water together on board a ship, separate the oil and pump out the water. If you are thinking this may take a while to invent, you may be right; at least that is what we thought. However, a little google-ing reveals that a lot of companies say they can already do this. Apparently oil and water do not mix - who knew.

Since so many companies say they already have the equipment, or at least claim they have the equipment, the responsible oil company, (did I just put word responsible and Oil Company in the same sentence?) should purchase the machines and then give them to the unemployed fisherman. The fishermen could go out every day and skim the oil and water together, separate the oil and store it in tanks on the boats. And when they return to the docks, the oil company should buy the oil. At $80 a barrel a fishing boat could make a lot of money. Small fishing businesses that are hurting, and will be for some time, would be transformed and they could hire more people. So many businesses could be created that would help the region out of the recession.

If this worked the oil company's executives would be given bonuses and congress would hold hearings. The norm today is that whenever large corporations give big bonuses to executives, congress hold hearings. The hearings would determine that private enterprise, the fishing boats collecting oil, worked with very little government involvement.

One side would argue that putting congress in charge means they would develop a regulatory agency for conversion of fishing boats to oil skimmer boats and oil would have never been skimmed -at least until the regulations were completed. Conversely, the hearing would also make clear that because of a lack of government involvement, in regulating the drilling industry, we have an ecological disaster from which we may never recover. The end result is that all sides could claim they were right and nothing would change.

Since the oil leak started there has been controversy about who is in charge and who is responsible. One side wants the government to be the leader, to which the government responded that only the oil companies have the expertise to stop the leak. However the government also said that they are in charge and are telling the oil company what to do. This tends to confuse me… It sounds as if everyone wants to be in charge but nobody wants the responsibility…..

If you recall congress already had hearings with the three involved parties – the platform owner, the oil company, and the company that concretes the pipe. All parties pointed fingers at each other… And these are our ‘experts?’ We seem to have a lot of EXPERTS working on this problem: experts in the oil industry, experts in the government and experts in major colleges and universities. Maybe, just maybe, we have created a problem we can not fix, or at least fix it in what we consider a timely manner. We have not cleaned up this mess and they (the experts) are already arguing about continuing to drill in deep water. Remember – experts have often made predictions that never occurred.

"By 1980 we will be self-sufficient and will not need to rely on foreign enemies… uh, energy" President Richard Nixon, 1973 responding to the oil crises.

With the current problem it was the experts and engineers that said, "The platforms and drilling platforms are fail safe" (In 2009). Typical of big business – "We have the best people in the industry working on this" (reported after the leak started). Sound familiar? That is because they copied it from financial industry. If our government, big business and industry acquire any more expertise we could be in a lot of trouble.

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