Global Analysis

The Gulf Oil Disaster

by J. R. Nyquist

Weekly Column Published: 6.25.2010


On April 20th the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had just finished drilling a well on the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling was done and the cement casing was in place. Suddenly, a leak was noticed in a blowout prevention control pod, and the leak could not be plugged. Total failure was close at hand. The rig was owned by an oil exploration firm called Transocean. On May 19 the chief executive of this firm, Steven Newman, told Congress, "The one thing we do know is that on the evening of 20 April, there was a sudden catastrophic failure of the casing, the cement or both. Without a failure of one of those elements, the explosion could not have occurred." The crew had little time to react, according to Newman. "The initial indications of trouble and the subsequent explosions were almost instantaneous." There was a tremendous upward surge of gas. When gas reached the surface it caused an explosion and fire that killed eleven workers. The rig burned and sank into the sea. The situation may be summed up in the opening line of an old song:  -- There's a hole in the bottom of the sea

Oil and gas are squirting out of the hole into the sea. How much is coming out? We don't know exactly. The BP press release of 25 June describes the recent success of two systems that "continue to collect oil and gas flowing from the Deepwater Horizon's failed blow-out preventer...." We are told that on Wednesday, "a total of approximately 16,830 barrels of oil were collected or flared by the two systems and 36.7 million cubic feet of gas were flared." We are also informed that approximately 239,000 barrels of oil have been extracted from the sea. How much damage has there been to the environment? Nobody knows; but the oil slick covers a surface area of about 2,500 miles.

Is this the ultimate environmental disaster? No way.  Nature has produced even worse catastrophes -- especially during the last ice age. About 8,000 years ago, the Black Sea was wiped out by a natural disaster far greater than today's oil spill. As related in The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, the vast ice sheets over northern Europe locked up so much water that sea level was below the level of the Dardanelles. Consequently, the Black Sea was the largest fresh water lake on earth. According to the Penguin Atlas: "As the sea level rose above the Bosporan shelf, salt water diffused into the Black Sea and killed the fresh-water life it contained. The decomposed remains of this ice-age population still poison the lower levels of the stagnant Black Sea which is devoid of life below 250 feet."

The surface area of the Black Sea is 168,495 square miles. The entire area, below 250 feet, is presently extinct. Man did not cause this extinction. Nature caused it. Compared with the relatively small area of the present oil slick, the Black Sea disaster was more 50 times worse, and the world did not come to an end. The alarmist pronouncements of recent weeks should be put into perspective. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is great, but it is far from the worst that our planet has suffered. This should help us to put things into perspective.

The tragedy of so much oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico is undeniable. But we must not forget the political game that is also afoot, and the strategic implications: from this day forth, America will not drill for oil under the water; meanwhile, others will profit by doing so. Even more important, capitalism will take the blame, the oil companies will be punished, and America's overall position will be weakened. Therefore, the event is not simply an environmental catastrophe. It is simultaneously a political event which is being exploited by existing political factions, countries and interests. The pathology of the West is not that it has allowed a spill to occur. The pathology is found in the self-lacerating tendencies of a civilization that feels so much guilt. One might ask: Who has put this guilt upon us? What is their motive?  

The tedious fool who turns every untoward event into an occasion for blaming others is excelled only by those masochistic fools who blame everything on themselves. "Hit me, beat me.  Make me pay at the pump." This is where it stands today, and how it will be played.

Copyright © 2010 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
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