Disaster! What Disaster?

“Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated”, Mark Twain famously responded after reading his obituary in the New York Journal. To which may now be added “Reports of the worst ever environmental disaster to hit America, have been exaggerated", in the light of the rapidly disappearing oil slick off the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t expect to hear those words from President Obama, who was stampeded into making so many doom laden statements by sections of the media which appeared to an outsider at least, to be more interested in attacking the President than the oil spill.

Some 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf and some 50 million gallons remain in the water, but an array of scientists now believe that a combination of a highly effective and costly cleanup operation, alongside the helpful hand of Mother Nature did not produce the worst environmental disaster to hit America. Far from it. The damage from the Exxon Valdez super tanker spill in Alaska twenty one years ago caused far more visible damage, with the area’s ecology deeply damaged. It is estimated that 250,000 sea birds were killed alongside 2,800 otters, innumerable seals and whales. Scratch underneath rocks there today, and the oil residue may sometimes still be found.

The Obama administration seems to have acknowledged the doom laden hype was just that. Here is what the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to say earlier this week; “The vast majority of the spilled oil has already gone. The rest has probably been diluted and doesn’t appear to pose much of a threat”.

BP – or “British Petroleum” – as President Obama took to describing the company has been the whipping boy for the Deepwater Horizon disaster and has paid handsomely. Doubtless it will be obliged to pay a whole lot more once the corporate lawyers get to work. It’s Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, has been made to walk the plank, yet somehow BP's partners, Transocean and Halliburton, seem to have escaped public opprobrium. Clearly the President needed to find someone to blame, but in retrospect, he could have spread it more fairly. He might also have said rather more about the vast war chest of the oil lobby, which has successfully lobbied to be allowed to drill deeper and further. He could have had a field day with Sarah Palin, whose campaign chorus, if memory serves me right was “Drill baby, drill”. After all, she wants to open up her native Alaska, a far more sensitive environment, to big oil.

The trouble with crying wolf is that fewer people believe you the next time. If, for instance, an American President were to wax lyrical about Iran’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’, I wonder how many would willingly countenance an invasion of the country? And what happens the next time, perhaps after Sarah Palin has got her way, and another great oil spill disaster hits Alaska?

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