May 4, 2010

Oilpocalypse Now

President Obama's "Katrina"?

Has a nice ring to it, especially on the right. While it's easy to pin the tail on this particular donkey, the analogy seems flawed, especially when you examine some key differences.

For openers, Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, President Bush was fully informed about the scope of the potential disaster from Katrina, and had ample warning that the worst-case scenario could happen, with accompanying, large-scale loss of life.  Second, the Bush administration cut the Army Corps of Engineers budget to maintain a flawed levee system that dates back decades.  Third, there were real people calling for help from their govenrment -- on live TV in many cases -- as the White House stumbled.

By contrast, when the oil disaster first broke, British Petroleum was slow to 'fess up about how bad things really were.  In fact, government monitors were first to sound the "uh-oh" alarm when they first realized that more than 5,000 barrels of oil was spurting from the well each day -- more than double BP's original assessment of 1,000 barrels per day.

And while we know that global warming made what would have been a relatively sane Category 2-3 hurricane in Katrina into a deadly Category 3-4 hurricane, the oil rig disaster was a man-made deal, due largely to human error and an oil giant's arrogance about its technical capabilities.

Not to mention that the White House -- probably pretty mindful of the Bush Administration's ineptitude on Katrina relief -- has kicked things into high gear, and made a high-profile presence almost immediately after the scope of the disaster became clear.

Nevertheless, this by no means is a disaster under control: oil is still pouring unchecked into the Gulf, shorelines from Louisiana to the mid-Atlantic are bracing for slicks, and the increasingly fragile environments will likely be ruined, for perhaps generations.  The disaster has the potential to wreck lives in ways not seen since 1989 -- or maybe 1979 , or 1986, or ... well, you get the idea.

The BP well disaster was not insignificant, its cause has yet to be determined and, like Katrina, the damage will likely echo across decades.  But for me, the analogy pretty much stops here.

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