A poet once wrote: “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble. Give a whistle. And this’ll help things turn out for the best.” This famous Python ditty appears to be the government, BP and media spin on the oil disaster at this point, and it could be the biggest display of wishful thinking, denial and deception in the face of a serious crisis since Chris Matthews and G. Gordon Liddy swooned over President Bush’s crotch bulge aboard the U.S.S. Lincoln when the Iraq war was apparently “over.”
For several weeks now, the traditional media, and especially cable news, has been wondering, “Where’s all the oil?” as if to suggest the biggest water-based oil disaster in history is over and the oil is gone. And while it’s easy to pick on the press, its short attention span and the superficial reporting typical of TV news, it’s only right to underscore who specifically is to blame for downplaying the size and scope of the disaster.
Remember the first time this “where’s the oil?” question was raised? Back on May 16, Brit Hume asked, “Where’s the oil?” on Fox News Sunday. Days later, the oil washed ashore and no one dared repeat the same question. Until now.
Patient zero in the most recent “where’s the oil?” analysis appears to be Thad Allen:
“What we’re trying to figure out is where is all the oil at and what can we do about it,” said US spill response chief Thad Allen.
Coincidentally, my next book is titled: Where Is All The Oil At? (And What Can We Do About It). I’m joking, of course, because we know precisely where the oil is. And there’s very little we can do about it, other than to stop candy-coating the post-kill status of the disaster.
I understand and accept that the government response has gone as well as can be expected considering the unprecedented nature of the disaster, along with the considerable financial and political pressure from all around. But when it’s come to the use of dispersants, for example, and since the capping of the blowout preventer, the government has been engaged in this campaign to significantly downplay the disaster for quite some time.
Today White House energy adviser Carol Browner told CBS:
“The vast majority of the oil has been contained, it’s been burned, it’s been cleaned,” [...] The remaining oil “will weather, it will break down naturally. Mother Nature will do her part.”
“Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing.”
This statement is shockingly deceptive. And it’s deceptive spin like this that ends up snowballing into full blown complacency. Dangerous complacency. Before we know it, it’s five years later, and everyone is wondering why so many people are dropping dead from mysterious diseases. More on that presently.
According to the New York Times, “…three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.” A study by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that the rest of the oil, 26 percent of it, is mostly a “glossy sheen” and “tar balls.” In other words, we’ve gone from “HOLY CRAP!” status back to the days when idiots like Haley Barbour were comparing the oil spill to rainbows and chocolate mousse.
Oh, wait. It’s not a rainbow or chocolate this time. The New York Times:
“The report calculates, for example, that about 25 percent of the chemicals in the oil evaporated at the surface or dissolved into seawater in the same way that sugar dissolves in tea.”
It’s sweet tea! Ahhh. Refreshing on a hot summer’s day. The obvious problem here is that when sugar dissolves in tea, the sugar is, you know, still there. It doesn’t vanish, otherwise there’d be a lot of pissed off tea drinkers wondering why their tea is so bitter.
But again, the euphemizing of the disaster never ceases to confound reality.
We only learned this week how much oil actually erupted into the Gulf. 4.9 million barrels is the latest guesstimate. That’s nearly 206 million gallons of oil. So this “light sheen” they’re talking about — this 26 percent of the oil spill — is more than 53 million gallons. That’s a lot of rainbow chocolate tea sugar. Five times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster, in fact.
Five Exxon Valdez disasters combined, yet Browner, Allen and the others are talking as though the crisis is over, the oil is gone and we can all relax with a shrimp cocktail and snorkel in the Louisiana wetlands. We’re supposed to believe that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to 53 million gallons of “light sheen?” Oxymoronic is an understatement.
And when we read reports about how the oil is “dispersed,” it’s easy to overlook exactly what that means. The oil hasn’t disappeared, despite the stupid tea metaphor. Much of the oil in the water is now impossible to capture because it’s been diluted into a chemically enhanced liquid poison — impossible to clean, skim or siphon. For most of the lifespan of the spill, BP was directly injecting dispersant into the gusher. One of the dispersant devices was a yellow tubular ring that shot dispersant into the plume from all sides.
There’s only one destination for this government-sanctioned dispersant/oil mixture: into the ecosystem, into the food supply and into our bodies. It doesn’t vanish and it doesn’t resemble sweet tea. And everyone needs to stop pretending that the red alert is over.
Last week, Time magazine published the headline: “The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?” This coincided, practically to the day, with the emergence of a whistleblower from the EPA, Hugh Kaufman, who explained to Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC that humans and aquatic life forms alike were “bleeding from their orifices” due to the volume of chemical dispersant dumped in the water and onto dry land by crop-dusters and by various other methods. That’s right, according to Kaufman, people and animals are evidently suffering from some kind of anal hemorrhaging because the dispersants are liquefying their internal organs.
And we still don’t know exactly how much Corexit was used. BP reports that it was 1.8 million gallons — which is still a lot. But that’s based upon a standard of using no more than 3,365 gallons in a single day. Congressman Ed Markey, this past weekend, learned that on at least two occasions, BP used as much as 36,000 gallons of Corexit in a single day.
Meanwhile, as for the rest of the oil, it didn’t take long for muckraking reporters like Mac McClelland to find it. As she read the AP report quoting Thad Allen’s “where’s the oil at?” statement, McClelland texted a reporter friend who instantly wrote back from an off-limits beach — a beach covered in oil.
And yesterday, we learned that oil is pooling just below the top layers of earth and sand. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, since the exact same phenomenon occurred at the beaches surrounding Prince William Sound. To this day, you can visit the site of the Exxon Valdez disaster and, with a cup of water and a scoop of sand, find the oil.
But the press, government officials and BP pitchmen are insulting our intelligence by suggesting that the oil has vanished and there’s nothing to worry about. From a political perspective it’s easy to see why everyone wants to make it appear as though the response was successful and they were able to achieve the impossible. Whatever short-term gains this might provide in terms of approval ratings or the confidence of the American people, however, will surely be undermined when the true long-term environment impact emerges.
So they can whistle away the crisis as much as they want, but we’d all do well to stay on top of this and to not take the whistly bright-side spin very seriously — at least until we see Carol Browner and Thad Allen and BP executives scarfing down Gulf shrimp, crabs and oysters by the bushel.