Learn from the gusher

The Reno News & Review generally avoids editorial comment on matters where the local commentary is irrelevant to the international debate. For example, we’d be unlikely to write about Israel’s attack on the Gaza relief flotilla. The Gulf Gusher, also known as the Deepwater Horizon, the oil well that will potentially pour hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico, is another one of those. Nobody at BP cares what some weekly in Reno, Nevada, has to say.

So, we’re going to speak to our local readers about a topic our readers care about: The Gulf Gusher. There are some lessons to be learned from this heartbreaking disaster, and if we don’t point them out, they may be forgotten.

First, this spill is only the first of many to come unless we, meaning citizens of the planet Earth, recognize that our response, regulations and enforcement are inadequate. In a world where “peak oil”—the concept that the days of easy oil retrieval are over—is a reality, regulators must regulate. As oil becomes harder to get, and oil companies operate in harsh and sensitive environments like the ocean deep, regulations and oversight must become more stringent. There are many people calling for some sacrificial scapegoats over at BP in the way of criminal prosecutions, but the conspiracy of incompetence and failure is so vast, it’s unlikely that any prosecutions would be anything but symbolic. Let’s concentrate on capping the gusher, then cleaning up the spilled oil.

Our government’s response was lame, in part, because its hands were tied. President Obama can wipe down a pelican with a paper towel, but that’s inadequate. Our country, in the interest of national security, should have the technology to aggressively handle deep-water oil spills. The military has subs, but they’re not designed to operate at the depths of the leak. Maybe that’s a potential silver lining to be learned from this disaster—to develop a quick response agency for environmental disasters anywhere on the planet on land or in sea. But few are talking about that. No, they’re doing the usual smoke and mirrors political baloney, calling for punishments or cleanup bank accounts or apologizing to oil companies for telling them to clean up their messes. And then apologizing for apologizing.

The biggest lesson of all has to do with our society running on oil. Mother Earth did not need another devastating slap in the face for us to see that we have got to develop more Earth-friendly energy sources. There’s no way we’re going to end our oil addiction cold turkey, but we need to take incremental steps to reduce our dependence. For one, we need to make our mass transit systems more convenient and friendly, by improving bus stops with enclosures to allow the aging and infirm to wait comfortably in inclement weather, for example.

Many more tears will be shed over the Gulf Gusher. It’s a mess that’s destroying wildlife, livelihoods and environments in places that never thought of the potential for oil in marshes or beaches—places that restricted off-shore oil drilling because of the risk for such a disaster.