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The Gulf Spill and The Question of Accountability and Sustainability

At last the British Petroleum corporation did finally make a fine, pretty mess of the large marine ecosystem of the American Gulf stream, a nice present from the union Jack to her beloved uncle Sam. That it could happen or that it did eventually happen were no longer in the per-mutative realms of probabilities and possibilities, the nightmare has become a living day dream. Yet it was quite probably perhaps never intentional. But the garbled signals that emanated from BP at the first few weeks of the spillage could as well have been better understood by radar engineers conversant with signal detection theory.

A hypothetical visitor to the BP spill site could as well have been in same predicament with Gulliver on his voyage to Brobdinag, everything would have appeared queer and surrealistic. Or else how could it seem that BP could not estimate how much oil (about 100,000 or so barrels per day) spilled into the Gulf stream daily? A blow up can basically result from structural malfunctioning such as bubbles of methane gas entering the shaft etc but not being able to estimate the extent of damage beats one hollow. It had been made known that this oil well has had some operational or structural problems even before the blow up and yet drilling continued. What was to blame? Profit, the old corner-cutting catalytic oxygen of western ecocide economics. Can one even call this mild economic terrorism? It had been happening elsewhere.

Thus while these technical dangers loomed in all possibility BP continued to drill for profit, the drills continued to sing a solemn metallic hymn to mercury. Until stalemate. But if management compromised standards, why did key technical workers not sound the alarm as a matter of honor and professional ethics? Extreme bureaucratism, the mother of decay, soviet-style.

Now the questions will have to arise; Monumental ecological damages have been done to peoples’ lives, business, health and environs and so I beg to ask but they may have to stand up and answer manfully: Have all the probable sources of possible explanations to this environmental catastrophe been fully analyzed and identified dispassionately and independently such as human errors, profit-oriented corner-cutting, improper well design, lack of blow-out preventers, poor cement design and bond logs, wrong operational procedures, poor oversight functions, poor assessment and management of natural mineral hazards by those involved to prevent future occurrences and inadequate reporting requirements, not the least? How can it be assumed that profit-oriented corporate bodies must always act responsibly to situations bordering on public environmental safety and who has ever “stress-tested” them on relevant crisis management capabilities? If they can easily violate the rights and livelihood of law-abiding citizens in the impacted areas who can then attest to the  integrity and sincerity of these multinational oil companies?

How does governance relate with these multinationals and what clearly stated channels of communication or modus communicandi are available? Should it not still have been better than what obtained in some developing nations where despite any regulatory mechanisms, the oil company CEOs can still bulldoze their way to the state houses to see the ministers and get what they want? What is the role of governance in regulating economic activities in the oil sector and must few profit-oriented CEOs decide the ecological fate of multitudes of people without qualms? It was reported that years of weakening government regulatory activities by the former Bush administration significantly distorted the delicate balance of responsibility between governance and business and helped to precipitate the oil blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico. Why then should Obama administration carry the greatest culpability for what has happened? Has current levels of technology developed well enough to take on monumental problems at great ocean depths? Are these depths not virtually unexplored worlds of their own which like deep outer space interests only the most fore-sighted scientist? Why then can’t deep sea oil drilling be banned for good? To what extent has marine flora and fauna been affected by the oil and the chemical dispersants? How will the controversial submarine oil plumes influence oceanic temperatures and carbon dioxide absorbing capabilities? How will an inclement, stormy season affect the multi-nation clean up effort?

The oceans detoxify the global environment but what will detoxify an increasingly toxic, tainted ocean? The liver detoxifies the body but the spleen, glutathione, and some other antioxidants help detoxify the liver to keep system working. Where analogously then is the necessary hepatic portal system to detoxify the global environment and its impacted economies?

Are these problems not growing vexatious pimples on the global economy? it  seems they are now using trial and error methods of guesswork as their technical textbook knowledge of handling this matter seemed exhausted partly due to unpreparedness in an unknown, seemingly extraterrestrial physical terrain that disdains the cognitive braggadocios of modern technological achievements like mini-robot submarines, remote well capping technologies etc.

What then is their next line of action to contain the leakage meantime while permanently-oriented solutions of relief wells etc are drilled? How many scientific bodies, research bodies, institutions and university centres of excellence globally are really devoted to the necessary deep sea research exploration, technology and hydrography? Why do they try to reap from where they cannot contain the potentially eminent problems? They call that puerile opportunism? Or half –knowledge, the promenthean fire gone out of hand? But it has proved so costly to the ecology. To unwittingly precipitate a highly viscous, dead-zone immobile ocean, they are going against Darcy’s law of fluid velocity, they have hydrological engineers and they known and moreover they are grossly violating some immutable principles of environmental sciences for years to come.

Do they appreciate the need for a synergistic, inter-disciplinary necessity of such work in the deep seas? Where is their research consortium of marine biologists, reliability engineers and environmental scientists etc in their employ to intimate them continuously of the ecological or structural effects of deep sea oil prospecting? Or was it all for the worship of profit, to buy a yacht, and island, cruise around on champagne and not care a hoot about the global environmental predicament?

Some responsibilities are surely demanded of all of us, like it or no, for our own good, for global sustainability and as a legacy. Begging the issue no, it is only that time eventually tells us that some responsibility is needed. But who can succinctly convince the mightier-than-nation-state multinational corporate behemoths that their operational practices have been fundamentally flawed, their strategies faulty, their approaches aberrant, their technologies over-rated in all ramifications, their priorities and alternatives misjudged?

Perhaps time eventually will do the convincing and has with these events perhaps is beginning to do the stern conviction that this fossil-fuel system is wrong and lunatic, and the learning curve has been hard brother, for what bishop eloquence could not teach, pastor time will preach. The contaminated large marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico is one of the “ loud preaching” of time to the deafness of this toxic civilization. And on this, it is not apt time for sweet words now. They are like opiates to the decadent mind frames. It is time to call down the thunder of regulation or whatever. The spirited horse needs a steel bridle. Their oil stocks can soar mega fold if it could, I don’t care, but they have the responsibility of protecting the global environment for you and me along side and for teeming posterity walking at our rear. But incidentally, approximately their oil stocks did almost always harm the environment and all in it and this fossil energy system has to go for good and it is just a question of time, vision and commitment. We all have free will to avoid another statistics or to accept. But who would consciously prefer pandemonium to music? Sometimes, unfortunately, complacency does.

But I thank the Obama administration for beginning to extract the billions of dollars of compensation to rehabilitate the shattered lives on the American Gulf coast. No amount of dollars can atone for the long term destabilization of that delicate ecosystem, contaminated for months unchecked, while the BP team babbled garbage.

I suggest perhaps a freeze on BP dividends payments or even outright liquidation, the people will be better off for it and it is people that  matter in the first place not so?. It should be people before profit; so that sanity may prevail. To the BP company and its ilk I say: it had been bad business brother, events have proved you wrong. Even the alcoholic liquor and tobacco company industries potentially menacing as they are health wise, gave adults the benefit of freedom and responsibility of indulgence. You offer none but involuntarily devastate peoples health and environment all the same indiscriminately on massive scales and despite your industry you only need to go and reflect on this a while. Yet listen: you can not make any progress in any venture until you put the interest of people first and their environment. Do sleep on that please.

But all these reflexively precipitate strains from another likely symphony far away from America. What symphonies? The discordant and macabre music of these same multinational oil companies that have caused much harm and havoc to man and environment in the Niger delta.

The sheer ecological devastation and health implications precipitated in the Niger delta in decades of oil exploitation would have made the Mexico Gulf disaster childs play. Ask Chevron, Agip, Shell, Elf etc. If the Gulf spillage could necessitate the much needed global outcry and expedite action, should these same oil moguls not be made to exert the same penalty in the Niger delta for justice sake. Whole environments have been polluted, wrecked and compensatory mechanism are next to nothing. Some government officials have been generally seen to be influenced to compromise on regulatory penalties and processes and any talk of social justice would have been tantamount to juggling with words.

The skeptics could take a trip to Ogoniland, Rumuekpe, Ogbakiri, Etche, Joinkrama, Ebocha and some other parts of oil producing Niger-delta states like Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Imo etc. The devastation and contamination of vegetation, land mass, marine ecosystems and air quality is awesome in some of these areas. Sometimes neurotoxic chemical dispersants are utilized to the health hazards of the vicinity population. There are mere token symbolism of compensatory corporate social responsibility and the foreign multinationals including the British, American and Italians are often seen to be as mired in graft as the local bureaucrats and these same local bureaucrats will unabashedly even say of them that: we are the same, only some skin colour variations! The degree of demagoguery and culpabilities seems to get messier, complex, deeper than skin. But one thing some people forget in this over-simplified categorization paradigm is this: many of these gentlemen local and foreign are honest, hardworking professionals and that the bad eggs seemed to have tainted the image of many.

On several occasions I passed through some of these oil prospecting zones of the Niger-Delta. At one of such places the spillage on farms and streams was particularly devastating with whole ecosystems gone. An oil complex was situated not far away and old evergreen music wafted from a radio loudspeaker in nearby residential shacks and I aptly heard refrains from the song “ I need cool, clear, air I “, a song by an American group called meadows (or was it shadows?) during the mid-seventies of last century. Nice solar music and it was rightly apt for the environment too but who really listened to reason in this trying environment? There were other nostalgic songs from same era that helped herald an American golden era that was being truncated by the Bush-team fear merchants and terror scares.

The breathe was stuffy with gases that stung the nasal linings faintly. An itinerant yellow-robed Pentecostal pastor with pealing bell walked along and preached redemptive repentance and I wished the executives inside the humming oil complex heard him as well. The contaminated settlement had no potable water, no electricity, no asphalted roads, no nothing. But there were soldiers and checkpoints and its sandbags everywhere to protect this complex and its toxic waste land. They thumbed up the passing motorists they knew and stopped those they didn’t for searching. And so the troops wanted to protect this pollutant complex but the complex apparently did not wish to protect itself environmentally, nor its surrounding vicinity. Such was the riddle. I decided it was time to move on.

These scenarios replicate themselves in several areas of the Niger-Delta. But where do all these dispensations sum up in pedagogic experiential wisdom from Mexican Gulf to the Niger-Delta?

Then some final questions must arise. What is to be done? How will it be done? What and who will play what roles from UN, to NGOs to scientists, legislators, World Bank and league of financiers for emergent, sustainable energy systems that must surely come someday? What are the debilitating consequences of global complacency? Do we not have responsibilities to posterity for a better life than we found it? When can we all do a real summit on all the real alternative pathways to sustainability? How can we engender commonsense to shake hands with opportunity? Where are the earth-movers and locomotives of history of this fantastic but seemingly color-less age? The independent Einsteins, Newtons and Mendeleyevs of a new ecological order of sustainability? Have they landed or seek we another? Where are the rugged commonsensical hammers of persistence driving the resilient nails of stern ecological regulatory mechanisms to successful finality? The answers may not easily be borne down on eagles wings across the azure sky, but that illustrious expectation is a mother of wonder is something that warms the heart.

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