1969 Oil Spill in Santa Barbara Channel, California (AP photo from Los Angeles Times)
However one might feel about drilling for oil in the continental shelf of the United States, the events of the last month have to stand as one of the greatest political ironies in the country's history. One month after a Democratic (!) president opens up vast areas for offshore drilling, a massive explosion kills eleven people on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and a huge oil slick is making landfall along the shorelines of what will ultimately include four states. You may be able to think of some better examples, but it makes me think of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ceded California to the United States on February 2, 1848, when unbeknownst to the signing parties, gold had been discovered in California on January 24 of the same year. We are only seeing the beginning of what will be a long and painful time for the coastal cities, not to mention the ecosystems found there. The political ramifications will last far longer; the oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969 still resonates today. And so does the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
I hope that the damage can be contained. It won't do anyone any good if the beaches all along the southern coasts are coated with muck. I do hope it will start a national conversation about our priorities. Despite the shrill cries of "Drill Baby, Drill", pulling the oil out of environmentally sensitive areas will do next to nothing to achieve energy independence. Without imported oil, we would pretty much use up our entire inventory of US petroleum reserves in maybe five or six years. Where will we be, then? We need to plan for a post-petroleum economy before it is forced on us, not after. It is the only way to avoid an economic disruption that will make the present-day recession look like the Roaring Twenties. But how can you explain that to representatives and senators who are incapable of looking beyond their next election day?
Deep Sea News provides a very good timeline of the events in the Gulf of Mexico.
I don't want to make light of a horrible situation, but I hope no prominent politician stands up to say how absolutely safe nuclear power is now...