How Many Times You Gonna Wash That Duck?

May 26, 2010

This article isn’t about secession.

I saw a film clip today about catching and cleaning waterfowl in the Gulf of Mexico. And it occurred to me…aren’t the duckwashers just releasing those birds when they get through giving them a bath? So, how many times you gonna wash that duck? Won’t he be going right back out into the Gulf and getting crude on himself over and over? I’m not saying that they should not wash ducks. But they could be in for a long stint of waterfowl washing…crane cleaning…pelican primping…duck dunking…loon loofas…and seagull scrubbing. There’s probably not enough Dawn dishwashing liquid in the world for this job, and it’s only a month old.

And that brings me back to the oil-gushing environmental disaster in the Gulf.

Here’s a little experiment you can do to give yourself some perspective. Throw an open bottle of red wine into a swimming pool and let it sink to the bottom of the deep end. Your mission…should you choose to accept it…is to cork the bottle. But you can’t get into the water. You must stand on the edge and watch that red wine leak out of the bottle while you use a long stick with a clothespin on the end that holds the cork. Good luck.

Now think about corking a gushing pipe a mile down in the ocean where the water temperature hovers in the low 40s.

Most of the news stories I’ve seen do their best to paint BP as an uncaring corporate monster. But do you really think that BP WANTED this to happen? They had PEOPLE on that rig that died in the accident. The Deepwater Horizon rig itself was worth $560 million. I have a real hard time believing that BP was negiligent, but I haven’t seen the evidence yet. Sometimes, bad stuff and accidents just HAPPEN, no matter how careful you are. Pumping oil is what they do best. Cleanups are difficult enough when the drilling rig is on land. But when you’re drilling A MILE DOWN in the ocean…on a floating drilling platform, massive complications set in. The only things that can work at that depth are submersible robots. The live footage of the gusher is like looking at a train wreck…you can’t look away. But that’s what TV lives for. BP could go broke cleaning up this mess. You don’t really think that oil prices WON’T rise after this, do you?

Want something else to worry about? The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administrations reports that there are 3,858 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowing this, and knowing that there has not been a spill like this in the Gulf in my half-century memory tells me that the oil companies have a great safety and environmental record. But how many of them COULD have an accident? Any or all of them? We just don’t know.

Out of the 6 billion people on earth, only a few thousand are petroleum engineers. Normal people have no possible concept of how to drill for oil a mile down in the Gulf or the North Sea. The very fact that it can be done at all is magical in its appearance. Most everyone just pulls their vehicles up the petrol point or filling station and just expect cheap product to flow out when they turn on the pump. So the deadly mixture of hubris, breathtaking ignorance and the willingness of the TV talking heads to say nearly anything creates another toxic spill…coming from our TV sets.

The oil spill in the Gulf just ain’t that simple, friends. But most of the people I’ve talked to in the last 30 days have developed a seething hatred for BP…based on what they’ve seen on TV. And they certainly don’t even consider that they have an indirect responsibility for this mess.

The people of this planet have made a conscious decision that oil is the best, most cost-effective product to power our lifestyles. Bringing oil up from the depths, whether on sand or salt water, entails a degree of risk. The world has accepted the risk so it can have as much oil as it needs. And no matter how big this Gulf spill becomes, it will not change the demand for oil. The only thing that is going to change demand is a superior technology, like turning water into hydrogen and oxygen to run internal combustion engines. Petroleum supplanted whale oil, didn’t it? Someday, it will be petroleum’s turn to step aside and take a back seat.

It’s just like air travel. We humans know deep down that occasionally, an airliner full of passengers is going to crash. It can be pilot error, or maintenance errors, or parts that wear out, or weather, or birds sucked into engines that causes the crash. But we accept the risk and pray we’re not on that plane. Most people DON’T stop flying.

Same for the automobile. Every week, hundreds of people are killed in auto accidents in America. Most weeks, the weekly death toll is buried deep in the newspaper in a single paragraph. We as Americans are so inured to auto crash deaths, we hardly notice anymore. But we accept the risk because vehicles are such a part of our lifestyle. Most people don’t stop driving.

And autos, airplanes and nearly every other form of mechanized transportation is powered by a petroleum product.

I’m not trying to minimize the disaster at the Gulf, or any other method whereby humans lose either their livelihoods or lives. I just want to offer some perspective on a horrible situation made worse by ignorance.

I encourage you to try your best to be compassionate toward EVERYONE involved, and don’t run your mouth about who’s at fault until all the evidence is in. At the same time, see what you can do to help. Maybe the best help you can offer is to just stay the hell out of the way…and shut up.

DumpDC. Six Letters That Can Change History.

© Copyright 2010, Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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