“I want you to keep it local.”
That’s what my editor says. I do my best, but the problem is that sometimes, and with increasing frequency as the world becomes smaller, it’s all local.
The world has become a more intertwined web of interests and with each passing day we become a smaller planet, at least in the impact that our actions can have. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing.
It’s wonderful that I can make friends online from Sweden to India. The fact that the human race is in many ways coming together as one people, through intermarriage, or interracial breeding at least, means that hopefully one day xenophobia may be reduced to the point of extinction. Maybe.
But the smallness of the world means that when something bad happens far from home, it can reach us.
For example, the April 20 deep water oil spill that is happening in the Gulf of Mexico and is fast approaching the shores of Louisiana and is certain to contaminate other shorelines. The spill itself is enormous and growing, and no one can give accurate numbers as to the true enormity of it all.
We cannot believe the spokespeople for British Petroleum, the lessees of the rig. They originally said the leak was only 1,000 barrels a day, then it jumped to 5,000 barrels, and now possibly 25,000. A barrel is 42 gallons. At the low end that is 42,000 gallons of crude pouring out for the past two weeks; at 25,000 a day it’s 1,050,000 gallons of crude pouring out, for the past 14 days.
The Exxon Valdez spill for comparison was 10.8 million gallons and was closer to shore so its impact was more concentrated, but still 20 years later there are significant amounts of oil still present and contaminating the shore and intertidal ecosystem. There is a website for the trust that was created to restore the Sound which has good information regarding the long term impact of the spill (www.evostc.state.ak.us/).
Non-BP experts are suggesting that the leak could be much larger, based on their estimates of the size of the oil slick. The repairs that are being pursued at the depth of about a mile, are two fold. There is a failed shut off valve that the underwater robots are attempting to get operational, if that doesn’t work there are back up plans, which may take weeks or even months, to complete. In the interim, BP is going to put domes over the existing leaks which collect the oil and can then route it to collector ships.
So why does any of this matter to us? Because not very far up the coast we have oil rigs, and yes, they have worked well for years, and most of the offshore drilling that we do as a planet does not result in giant spills that cause damage and loss of life to ecosystems and damage to economic systems. But, as this latest spill shows, and the history of the Exxon spill demonstrates, the long-term effects are far greater than we anticipate.
Imagine if one of those rigs that are only a few miles offshore were to begin pouring crude oil into the ocean, and it was to come ashore at Zuma, and then work its way south to the Santa Monica Pier, as it rounds the bay, polluting the beaches and spoiling the ecosystem. It’s a nightmare scenario, and we don’t even have a huge dependence of fishing as a way of life here.
But it would be catastrophic to tourism, which we do rely on.
Now I’m not going to say that we should end the drilling based on this accident, though it’s not necessarily a bad idea. What I do think is that we cannot rely on the oil companies to have enough resources in place, and contingency plans to deal with a spill, unless they are made to account for them before a spill. I know this is sure to get me a phone call from some PR person telling me of the significant government regulation they labor under and how they are fully compliant at all times. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Corporations exist for profit. Their own self-interests are not best served by spending money on spill containment procedures and are unlikely to do so unless forced to.
Accidents happen accidentally. But the point is that they happen and we need to be prepared to deal with them. We should take the opportunity we have, prior to an accident, to make sure that the plans we have in place are sufficient, based on the knowledge we have today of the long term-effects of a spill.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.