Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Every time there is a major world-altering crisis, it seems the smartest thing humans do is find the smartest humans. So, if there is, say, a flu virus that emerges and threatens various populations, the greatest medical minds pool their cerebral resources and find treatments, or suggest necessary precautions or whatever it takes to fight the threat. If there is a world economic crisis, the greatest financial brains all throw their fiscal-loving hats in the ring and come up with some sort of plan. That makes me wonder: When the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S. happens in the Gulf of Mexico, where are the great environmentalists, marine life researchers, chemists and oil industry minds and why have they not gathered to figure this out? Is it just me, or have others wondered this, as well? I don’t know, because not one talking head in the media has yet to come forward with this query.

It is somewhat understandable that the international oil company experts have not come forward. After all, guess where the biggest oil companies are located. Give up? Watch this list: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Libya, Russia and China. I rest my case. You didn’t really think Iranian oil experts were going to take a goodwill trip to Grand Isle, LA, now did you? Libyans to Biloxi? Not likely. Saudi Arabians to Plaquemines Parish? Right.

That leaves the U.S. oil companies to pitch in with boots on the ground, cutting edge tech equipment and a collaborative spirit to end this crisis before it gets bigger and badder. So, where are Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Conoco-Philips? And why does the U.S. government continue to use knowledgeable researchers to simply identify the problem, rather than help fix it? As recently as May 31 a team of researchers from the University of Florida revealed that a hidden deep sea oil plume was headed toward the Alabama coastline, an area hugely populated by marine life. Associated Press quoted an LSU fish biologist who said, "Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that.”

BP counters each such statements with its own declarations that naysayers are overstating the problem. BP CEO Tony Hayward (right)
claims that oil naturally gravitates to the surface, and sees no reason for alarm about underwater plumes. It bears noting that CEO Hayward also looked straight into a news camera last weekend and said, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” So do thousands of Gulf Coast fishers and their families, Hayward. The difference is that Hayward’s life involves an annual salary from BP of roughly $1.5 million, according to Forbes. Oh, and let’s not forget his 2009 bonus of just over $3 million. Who wouldn’t want that life back? Gosh Hayward, we just can't tell you how sorry we are to inconvenience you like this. Really. We can't. Hayward, who has a tendency to speak before he thinks, also said, the oil spill is “relatively tiny” in comparison with the size of the ocean.

Clearly it is up to President Obama to convene the oil gurus, wildlife advocates and marine life rescuers, so that together they might find solutions. BP is not motivated to do so because it does not have to. The U.S. government has limited authority over BP. Obama, who spent a short three hours in Louisiana last week, has yet to take any further measureable steps toward solving this crisis since his visit. And unlike BP, he should be motivated to do so. He is now being compared to George Bush during Katrina. Talking heads are referring to the oil spill as Obama’s hostage crisis, measured in days. Politicos offer dire prognostications about Obama becoming the first one-term president since Jimmy Carter, if he does not exhibit strong leadership and become a catalyst for action in the Gulf.

The oil spill, you may have noticed, is not at the top of the media’s headline list each day, the way Katrina was. The story is not as sexy. There are no photos of New Orleans underwater. Nobody is stranded on a roof with giant signs that read “HELP!” Gulf Coast residents are not scattered coast to coast in refugee fashion. Katrina was tailor made for media drama, and make no mistake – these days, drama often trumps truth. Instead of oil spill headlines, we get juicier stories that just serve to piss us off – did you hear the one about Louisiana Senator David Vitter coming out in support of BP? True. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

You may also have noticed that George Clooney and the rest of Hollywood’s elite have not rallied to come to the aid of the fishers. No telethons, no emotional requests for immediate help. No food drives, no national coming together for the needy. Let’s face it: George and Oprah and Madonna and fill-in-the-blank boldface names know very little about small fishing towns in Louisiana that are facing extinction. You cannot really rally for something you don’t understand. And is America really going to toss coins at Louisiana just after Nashville went under water? Not likely.

We are dealing with the ultimate loss of a vital eco-system here in Louisiana. We are facing a culture shift that could significantly alter the national seafood market in a most unfortunate way. And just as New Orleans was regaining its pride and some sense of real life, we walk out of our houses on evenings when the air is still and we smell something quite foul. Is it oil, or is it chemicals used to disperse the oil? We do not know, and apparently no one else knows either. And if it is chemicals we smell, how dangerous is it to ingest them? Are there respiratory illnesses yet to be seen that may fully emerge long after the immediate crisis is negotiated down? We don’t know that, either. And since the oil spill is being reported in a rather laissez faire way, America seems to have a distorted view of what is happening here. Some people are cancelling their vacations to New Orleans. Associations are wondering if their already contracted annual conventions might be better placed elsewhere. Visitors are unsure about eating the seafood in world-famous seafood restaurants. You begin to see the trickledown effect on the state’s economy.

Right now, as a Louisiana citizen, I place this crisis squarely at the feet of President Obama. I expect him and Congress to make this oil spill every bit as much of a priority as the national unemployment crisis. I urge him to do just what I suggested earlier – assemble the great minds to find solutions, release enough funds to implement the solutions and manage the crisis on an hour to hour basis. Perhaps he could cancel his still-scheduled trip to Australia next month. I'm thinking maybe there is no pressing diplomatic business with Australia that would trump the President's obligation to manage the biggest oil crisis in the history of this country.

It matters not who is to blame here for the spill. The political ramifications of this crisis will have to wait until the human crisis is addressed and solved. Ponder this: If the oil spill resulted from a terrorist attack, rather than an accident, would our government be more mobilized to fix this? I believe they would. So why is it that the circumstances under which this happened dictate the aggressiveness or lack of such that characterizes the response? Obama and all elected officials need to get busy. Now. We cannot wait.

After all, in addition to our current Gulf crisis, be aware that hurricane season officially began June 1. The oil spill likely happened due to human error. If Mother Nature reigns terror on our little corner of the earth while the spill is still wreaking its own havoc….well, let’s not borrow trouble. Let’s just fix this – now.

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