Tapping A Beast
Jun16

Tapping A Beast

The video feed is absolutely mesmerizing, if utterly monotonous. It looks like dirty blackish-brown smoke billowing furiously from some sort of metal contraption. We know, however, that it is a mixture of crude oil and natural gas boiling out of Earth a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it. It is the environmental catastrophe that is the blown BP well that tapped into the Macondo oil deposit off the coast of Louisiana. This week’s cover story focuses on many aspects of the spill, from the environmental impacts of the oil and efforts to disperse it to the regulatory failures that contributed to the disaster. Senior Correspondent Jeff Johnson and Assistant Editor Michael Torrice collaborated on the main feature, and Johnson and Senior Editors Melody Voith and Bethany Halford contributed sidebars. Substantial original reporting went into producing this comprehensive report. No one, for instance, was particularly interested in discussing the volume of Corexit oil dispersant BP has been spraying on the surface of the Gulf and directly onto the spill. One source told Voith that, if she really wanted to know, she could check the daily logs at the Deepwater Horizon Response website. So she did—one day at a time since the spraying began. The result is this graph that clearly shows that the Environmental Protection Agency and BP don’t see eye-to-eye on the use of Corexit. After reading the C&EN article and the outstanding coverage of events leading up to the spill that has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, one cannot help but be outraged at the arrogance of BP and the utter ineptitude of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the government agency charged with regulating oil development on the outer continental shelf. According to these reports, the Macondo oil field had given BP numerous warnings that it was an unruly beast of an oil field. Every sign from the well said loud and clear, “This field should be treated with the utmost caution and respect.” Every decision about how to proceed with drilling and cementing the well should have been informed by worst-case scenarios. In fact, every decision by BP and every MMS waiver granted to the oil giant seems to have been based on best-case scenarios. The attitude at BP and MMS appears to have been, “Nothing is going to go wrong,” even while experts on the scene cautioned that, in fact, it looked like things might go very wrong. And they did. If BP had a record of correctly factoring in risks associated with its businesses, it would...

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