Obama Should Kick the Government's Ass

Wesley Messamore
Jul 7, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Loath to waste a good crisis, the progressive consensus is that America's overwhelming thirst for oil is the ultimate cause of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Self-styled progressives argue that if only the government would take more action to regulate energy and encourage the development of alternatives to traditional fossil fuels, disasters like the Gulf Oil Spill could be avoided. As if. Let's take a brief look at the role our government itself played in causing the spill, and see if we can't identify who's ass Obama should kick.

To begin with, it was the Democratically-controlled U.S. Congress that unanimously passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which outrageously set a mere $75 million limit on damages that oil companies would be liable for in the event of offshore oil spills. Imagine telling motorists that they wouldn't be responsible for damages above a certain amount caused by automobile accidents, and that the U.S. taxpayer would simply pick up the tab for the rest. If you can see that this would encourage motorists to drive less safely, take more risks, and cause more accidents, you can see how government meddling may have some small part to play in the Gulf Oil Spill.

Then there's the matter of deepwater drilling itself. Ever try to make quick movements underwater? You probably found that the water density makes movement more difficult than in the air. The deeper the water is, the greater the density is, creating bigger engineering challenges and more risks. Yet this didn't stop the government and its regulators from stopping at nothing to push oil drilling into deeper waters. With the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act of 1995 and the 2005 Energy Policy Act (which then-Senator Obama voted for), the government used taxpayer money to encourage deepwater drilling (and what the text of the Energy Policy Act itself describes as ultra-deepwater drilling).

These two examples alone should make it clear enough already, that the oil industry is hardly an unregulated, free market. Blaming free markets for the spill is worse than merely wrong- it's incredibly naive. But it only gets worse. The Minerals Management Service, which is charged with regulating the oil industry- has a long history of corruption. Government regulators at MMS were accepting bribes from BP employees, using hard drugs and porno during work hours, and having sex with the very oil industry employees they were supposed to be regulating!

On the day the spill happened, the "fail-safe" mechanism for stopping it- the blind shear ram- failed by maddening centimeters to seal off the well, which would ostensibly not have happened in shallower and less dense waters. And despite experts warning the MMS that this very mechanism was vulnerable on the Deepwater Horizon well, the corrupt regulators were impotent to prevent the ensuing disaster. As the oil gushed week after week, calls for President Obama to act became more shrill. But the problem wasn't executive inaction; it was quite active executive obstruction of every solution and every effort to stop the oil.

All foreign ships offering to help in the cleanup efforts were turned away. In all, the State Department acknowledges 21 offers of aid from 17 countries. All were rejected because of the Jones Act, which requires ships in American waters to be made with mostly American parts and staffed with mostly American sailors. Instead of waiving the act in the face of an emergency, as George W. Bush had done after Hurricane Katrina, Obama refused and obstructed all foreign efforts at solving the problem.

Additionally, the Governor of Louisiana found his cleanup and response efforts hampered at every turn by the Obama Administration, which actually ordered Louisiana to cease and desist from efforts to pump oil out of its waters, and also halted Louisiana's efforts to build barriers to protect its beaches from oil damage. Meanwhile government officials in the Gulf are turning journalists away from beaches and barring them from surveying the damage and reporting to the American people. The entire government response has been about as transparent as the oily waters it refuses to let anyone clean up.

With its record of malfeasance, obstruction, and impotence in the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, any calls for more government involvement are born either of ignorance or total insanity. Instead of calling on the President to get more involved, we should be demanding that he stay the hell out of our way.

Wow, great write up Wes! 

Nail. On. Head

Jared Fuller's picture

And if he doesn't, the voters will.

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--> $75 million oil spill liability cap

Minor points.

The law has no limits on direct oil cleanup costs. The $75 million limit applies to payment for loss of business income on land as a side-effect of a spill. That amount is low because official government projections said that littl oil would reach shore from a deepwater well, even for a leak 10 times the current flow. Obama extracted $20 billion from BP for economic relief, so that $75 million limit has been politically removed. One might think that is good, except that it violates the rule of law. The law provides for an insurance fund of billions, filled by a tax on oil production, to compensate for economic damages above $75 million.

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Water is much thicker than air, so it is harder to move through it. It also is almost incompressible, meaning that it doesn't become thicker under pressure. It is about as easy to move through water at 1 mile down as at 100 feet down.

The difficulty is the direct pressure one mile down. Every component of an underwater robot must either withstand that pressure or equalize with it. That has to complicate all of the electronics and hydraulic fittings that enclose the fluids that move the robot's parts.

It is very cold at the wellhead, cold enough to freeze a mixture of oil and water from the flow, even though the water won't freeze on its own under the high pressure.

The shear ram that failed is operated by hydraulic fluids. From my quick reading, no one knows why the ram failed to completely close. It wasn't the thickness of the water, but it could have been the high-pressure environment. Pumps moving the hydraulic fluid would possibly have to work against that pressure.

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