RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Thanks for Clarifying Oil Crisis

A bit ago, I heard Jim Hightower on the radio thanking Goldman Sachs for Abacus, a deplorable bit of chicanery (Abacus, not Jim Hightower’s audio piece). Abacus, an investment “package” that bet against homeowners trying to keep their places, made a lot of money for its inventor, John Paulson, and for Goldman Sachs, but it left homeowners broke and cost a lot to investors. Now the SEC has accused Abacus of being a fraud.

Nonetheless, says Hightower, the fiasco revealed two Wall Street secrets. The first secret, in Hightower’s words, “Abacus is nothing but a scam” and Wall Street is “now a global gambling house for the superrich ... a casino game, pure and simple.”

The second secret exposed by Abacus is that the promoters of the scams, and their co-scammers on Wall Street, don’t do anything to earn their obscene paychecks. John Paulson, inventor of Abacus “grabbed, snookered, absconded with and otherwise hauled off a billion — but ‘earned’ implies meriting something,” said Hightower, “Paulson is a snake who did nothing to deserve his billion-dollar haul.”

So, in the same spirit of thanking the perps for being so brazen, here’s my salute: Thanks, BP, for the environmental catastrophe that no one could miss. Even the most hardened anti-environmentalist can see the disaster. We don’t even need pictures of dead fish, mucked up turtles, or gobbed up birds. All we need to see are the giant red rivers of oil on the blue ocean, photographed from above, the little copper globs of congealed oil in the water, photographed from below, the huge gobs of tarry goo on the beaches, photographed from eye-level, to imagine what’s going on below the surface. The old fishermen say that, before the spill, you could see 30 to 40 feet down, but now it’s all oil.

The Deepwater Horizon has revealed the secrets of today’s big petroleum industry. The first secret is that nobody in the industry knows the possible outcome of drilling holes into the ocean floor and beyond, through unseen crusts and aquifers. The Deepwater Horizon had drilled the world’s deepest well, 35,055 feet, nearly seven miles below sea level. Think of something seven miles from where you sit. A school. A friend’s house. A fire station. That’s how far this hole went into the earth.

And, now, BP can’t figure out how much oil is coming out of the gusher. 5,000 barrels? 80,000 barrels? 100,000? Is there a difference? With 42 gallons in a barrel, you do the math.

Setting a four-story tall box over the hole seemed like a good idea, but it took less than 24 hours to prove it wouldn’t work. Putting a siphon into the crude might work, is worth a try, might get half of it onto a tanker, in a public relations “Our efforts are making a big difference now” sort of way. But fixing the problem? Stopping the gusher? Plugging the holes for good? Well, that may never happen. Maybe it just has to run dry.

And the second secret revealed is that, besides not fixing it, there’s such a spaghetti bowl of relationships between the corporations that have profited: There’s Hyundai, the South Korean firm that built it; BP, the British firm that runs it; dozens of suppliers of parts — Halliburton’s even got a piece of this. No matter how clear the explanation of the digitized dramatic re-enactments on TV, nobody is going to take complete responsibility. Who, for example, decided not to install the blowout preventer that, if the name is correct, would have prevented this blowout? There’s a web of companies, politicians, lobbyists, media, insurance companies to say this is a one in a million event. Nobody could have ever guessed ...

This industry is massive. An estimated 4,000 similar rigs are pumping in the Gulf. Two hundred of them can dig as deep as the DH. Each has a 1 in 200 chance of becoming the next big explosion/gusher.

And here’s another revelation: We’re all victims. The destruction doesn’t stop with folks that have lost their livelihoods, their lifestyles, their cultures, on the coast. We can see where the smoke from the burns and the hazardous dispersal chemicals are going — the water, air, sky, earth, seaweed, dolphins, clouds, shrimp, flying fish, whales, birds, butterflies, us. When it rains in Missouri or wherever we are, it rains that oil and dispersant, just as sure as you’re born.

And we’re all dependent on the industry, stubbornly holding onto our cell phones, wrapped in plastic made from petroleum, and riding in our smelly cars, tractors and semi trucks, fueled by petroleum, racking up the frequent flyer miles on plastic airplanes, wearing clothes woven from plastic fibers and chugging semi-pure water from plastic jugs.

So, thanks, BP, for the educations. Here’s hoping we learn something from it.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2010

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