Archive - May 27, 2010

Cease And Disperse

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There's a lot of serious fucking mendacity, corporate bullshit, ass-covering, and negligence from BP when it comes to the Deepwater Horizons accident and subsequent oil spew. More than I'll ever be able to properly cover, even if I keep writing this column until the oil goes away. But today I'd like to have a little talk about dispersants.

Dispersants are, at least in my layman's understanding from a month's worth of news-following, complex hydrocarbons whose physical properties make them good for breaking up one large quantity of oil into millions and millions of small quantities of oil. This oil doesn't rise to the surface, it stays in the ocean or sinks to the bottom.

There are a number of problems with this, of course. As I write this, I'm listening to Chris Matthews' giant potato head ask for the hundredth time why we don't just have supertankers suck the slick off the water. Even if that were some kind of magical solution, it's not just oil on top of the water. It's oil and a chemical soup dispersed miles-deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news is that it keeps the oil off of the shores to a certain extent. The bad news is that the effect of dispersants is largely cosmetic. The oil doesn't go away. It's sill in the Gulf, still in the food chain, still in the fish and the shrimp and the dolphins and the turtles. And so is Corexit.

Corexit is the dispersant BP is using, and they've dumped a literally unprecedented amount of it into the Gulf over the past month. What's in Corexit? Nobody knows. Why? Because it's a trade secret. Because three-plus decades of pro-corporate deregulation of gotten us to the point where a foreign oil company can dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of a mystery chemical made by NALCO into the ocean, and we can't make them tell us what's in it.

Come to think of it, what kind of bullshit name is "Corexit" anyway? Someone needs to go through NALCO's records, find out which executives sat in on the brainstorming meeting where they came up with "Corexit" (Corrects it... get it?") and haul them before a war crimes tribunal or two for... I don't know. Is there an equivalent to genocide in the world of branding? Because there fucking well should be.

This is the part that kills me. Well, metaphorically, unless I manage to eat a bunch of fish that have been swimming in the stuff. We can't stop them. Eight days ago, the EPA decided Conexit was too toxic. They ordered BP to stop using it. They gave BP one day to come up with an alternative, and three days after that to start using the alternative. What do you think BP's been pouring into the Gulf for the past four days? If you didn't say "Conexit", you're not nearly cynical enough to be reading this column. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"We are continuing to use Corexit while we look at other alternatives." - BP flack Mark Salt.

We can't even make BP use a slightly less toxic chemical to disperse the oil. Not even when the main point of dispersants is to make the oil spill look better. The smaller the slick on the surface, the better BP looks - especially when BP owns the only underwater cameras pointed at Oil Faithful. That's why I don't understand the calls to push BP aside and fix the leak itself. The government can't even handle what BP's putting in the water ON PURPOSE, and we want them to deal with what they've put in the water accidentally? Please.

I'd be all in favor of a government takeover of the spill response, if we could find a government to do the takeover that didn't have it's balls locked away in Big Oil's purse. Barring that, I'd rather let BP take the fall for failing to plug the leak than Obama. Sure the fish'll still be coated with oil and their bellies will still be full of Formula 4,009, but at least private industry will take the well-deserved PR hit for a change.