I’ve remained quiet – at least blog wise – about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster and subsequent enormous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Now that tar balls and mats of oil have come ashore on the sugar white sand beaches less than two miles away from my present residence, it is high time to address the issue from my own biased angle.
Of course I am furious that BP apparently had a complete lack of judgment which most likely led to the manmade disaster. At one point I allowed BP the benefit of a doubt and assumed it was a freak accident. But as more and more testimony of events leading up to the explosion have become public, my faith it was not due to human error has evaporated.
I am saddened by the effect the tens of millions of gallons of oil (potentially hundreds of millions by the time it is capped) are having on the wildlife and the people whom all inhabit the Gulf area. The economy of the region is taking a massive hit just as the summer tourist season has arrived. People and businesses along the white sand beaches, and further inland, will most likely continue to be affected by the events of April 20 for years to come.
With all that said, I am not one calling for the heads of the executives of BP. Nor am I demanding the government seize the assets of the multinational public corporation which generates more than a $6 million in profits per day.
Has BP made a plethora of mistakes that would be comedic if the results weren’t so environmentally disastrous? Of course the company has. The same may one day prove to be true for TransOcean, Halliburton and Cameron which were working with BP to drill the offshore well to be more than 18,000 feet below sea level.
As horrific as the outcome of those blunders have become, we should not be too surprised. BP is a company owned and operated by humans and employing humans. And one thing that makes humans truly unique among the Earth’s living creatures is our ability to rationalize risk to the point where we feel we can do most anything safely and become blasé about the potential downside – whether that be loss of wealth, loss of habitat or loss of life.
Banks operating in the U.S. became blind to the calamity that was about to befall them and drag the U.S. into a recession just a few years ago. Rock climbers see only the path ahead of them, not the fall that awaits any misstep. Skydivers take a leap of faith and revel in the fall itself, while trusting little more than some thing rope and fabric to slow them down before they meet the ground once more.
Our uniqueness has allowed our species to accomplish amazing endeavors, yet it has also often blinded us to the obvious.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is human spaceflight. We’ve launched men into space. Astronauts have ventured outside their spacecraft into the coldness of space – an inhospitable environment indeed where any wrong move could lead to death. Twelve astronauts have walked on the surface of the moon – an engineering feat with no equal since it happened in 1969. Remember, we launched a multistage rocket and ran square into the target from more than 235,000 miles away. No GPS. No personal computers to consult. Just sheer guts, determination and lots of slide rules and No. 2 pencils.
Yet, those triumphs did not come without loss of lives. Three separate times no less at a cost of 17 astronauts.
Placing three men inside a confined metal capsule filled with electrical circuits and an atmosphere of 100% oxygen surely seems like an insane thought now. But that is exactly what happened and led to the death of three astronauts after the Apollo 1 capsule caught fire on January 27, 1967.
The fact that cold weather might affect the rubber seals (O-ring seals) of the solid rocket booster on the stack for a Space Shuttle seems so obvious. Yet, Challenger was lost – after one such sealed failed and quickly led to the destruction of the the external tank and Challenger on January 28, 1986. A moment that changed my future direction in life immensely. In this case, many had been aware of the risks, but the chain of command and complacency brought about by 50 prior successful launches led to the fateful decision to launch. A lack of judgement we hoped would never be repeated again.
What had become routine turned deadly once again on Feb. 1, 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas during reentry. Later it was determined that a piece of foam had fallen off the external tank during launch and slammed into the leading edge of the orbiter’s left wing, leaving a gash which allowed the superheated gasses surrounding the orbiter on reentry to reach inside and tear it apart. Foam had fallen off the ET during most shuttle launches, but it had never been considered a major cause for concern.
So, was there a point to all this you’ve undoubtably asked by now. Yes.
Mistakes were made. More mistakes will continue to be made.
Mistakes by BP? Looks like it. Mistakes by Halliburton, Transocean and Cameron? Time will tell. Mistakes within the government and its oversight of the continuing operations to stop the flow of the oil? Of course. Is the Coast Guard making mistakes in its attempts to protect the coastline, marine life and livelihood of Gulf residents as well as the cleanup of the oil when it does reach shore? Yes. And I say that with a heavy heart as I have immense respect for the Coast Guard and its mission. Some of the mistakes will become obvious in future days, months and years. We will likely make the same basic mistake over and over. We’ll see many areas where we could have done better. And areas where our efforts were wasted.
When you get down to the basics though, all we can truly ask of ourselves and others is that we all work together and attempt to do something to the best of our abilities. Perfect as individuals we are not. Perfect as a team we are not. Even the members of the 1972 Dolphins will admit that they were imperfections in their play during their undefeated championship season. Perfect as a species we are not either. There is little doubt Mother Nature would agree with that statement as we pollute the ground, oceans and atmosphere of plant Earth.
Determination of fault for the Deepwater Horizon accident will one day be made. Those at fault will be punished then. The appropriate time for finger pointing, name calling and lawsuits will come. In the meantime, let’s work together and do everything we can to plug the well pipe and mitigate the damage to those in the fallout zone.
Mistakes were made and will continue to be made despite our best intentions to do no wrong. Do not forget that as each and every one of us are human after all.