A federal judge sitting in Louisiana struck down the Obama Administration's six-month moratorium on new deep water drilling, despite the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused by BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling operation. Who is the unelected man standing in the way of permitting a six-month review of this inherently dangerous activity?
On June 15, the CEOs of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Chevron and BP were grilled by the House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources. Unsurprisingly, much of what they said was spin. They paraded industry investments in alternative energy and safety that make up a vanishingly small percentage of their balance sheets. BP's competitors claimed again and again that they would never have made the catastrophic mistakes that led to the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon. But the hearing's scariest moment came when Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told the truth. Tillerson stated that when oil spills occur "there will be impacts." According to ExxonMobil, the cleanup effort launched by BP represents the best efforts of the oil companies. For the oil companies, this travesty is the cutting edge of safety and environmental protection.
BP and the media express quantities of oil gushing from BP's leak in the Gulf in different ways. The amount of oil coming out of the leak is most frequently expressed in barrels, but how much is that? Can people really relate to a barrel as a quantity? After all, we buy staples like gasoline, milk, and water by the gallon. To make it even more complicated for the public to understand the quantities being discussed, the amount of liquid in a barrel varies with what is being measured. Barrels of chemicals or food, for example, contain 55 gallons. A whiskey barrel is 40 gallons; a barrel of beer contains 36 gallons; a barrel of ale contains 34 gallons. (And the latter two are imperial gallons, which are just under two-tenths more than an American gallon.) All these variations in the barrel as a quantity of measure only further confuse the concept of what a barrel of oil looks like. Moreover, since oil companies started shipping oil in tankers they rarely actually ship oil in barrels anymore, so the barrel as a measurement has less practical use.
As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to dominate headlines around the world, public outrage is being focused more intensely upon BP and its gaffe-prone CEO Tony Hayward. But amidst this crisis, the public should not forget the atrocities committed by other massive oil companies. For example, Royal Dutch Shell's drilling operations have been spilling oil into the Niger Delta in Nigeria since 1958. Because Nigeria is an impoverished nation and oil revenues fund a majority of government operations, Shell and other companies have been able to drill and pollute without serious oversight for all these years. It is estimated that 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the delta, making life even more difficult for the region's destitute residents. Shell blames the constant spills on attacks from "rebels," who are in fact minority ethnic groups who feel they have been exploited and displaced by foreign oil companies. But Shell would never consider pulling out of the region or finding ways to avoid ethnic strife. Instead, Shell has proceeded with business as usual, and spilled a record 14,000 tons of crude oil into the delta last year.
Last year the federal government approved a 582-page, regional spill plan for the Gulf of Mexico. Sounds comprehensive, right?
Now that it is recovering some of the oil pouring out of the massive leak at the bottom of the Gulf's floor, BP has found another way to try to repair its reputation: the company announced that it has created a new wildlife fund that will benefit from any profits B