Thuppal: Oil spill our fault, too

By Hay Thuppal

It’s been more than six weeks since news broke regarding the Deepwater Horizon drilling… It’s been more than six weeks since news broke regarding the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and the oil spill that followed in the Gulf of Mexico.

In that time, every major news outlet has been covering it 24/7, updating the situation from all angles. Many Americans have been following the coverage, to the point where “top kill” and oil dispersants have entered everyday conversation.

There’s no doubt the oil spill is a popular topic, given the impact it could have on the environment, future oil drilling regulations and wallets.

During this time, there’s been a good deal of talk regarding a change in energy policies that will help Americans to move beyond our addiction to oil so that disasters like this one can be prevented in the future.

It has become clear that British Petroleum, the company operating the rig — and its desire to maximize profits  — led to a disregard for the safety regulations it should have followed.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly been quoted as saying that BP will pay for its negligence and that any new projects involving drilling will be overseen with much greater scrutiny. He has even been forced to put future plans for exploratory offshore drilling on hold.

But even with such wide-reaching consequences, it seems unlikely that the direct effects of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have trickled down to anyone living outside the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida. In the past six weeks, the national average price for regular gasoline has actually dropped, according to the American Automobile Association’s Fuel Gauge Report.

Despite the constant news coverage of the BP oil spill, there’s little motivation for many Americans to use this event to reevaluate our oil dependence. Without the fear of direct economic impact, the majority of us will go about our daily routines, only to give this disaster a few minutes of attention when we can.

The problem is that before any serious action could be taken, the oil spill seems to be fading from a lot of our interests.

Some people are tired of hearing about it or believe the problem will resolve itself soon. Yet this seems to be the most unfortunate part of the whole scenario. There is so much that remains unresolved with BP and its handling of this incident.

One concern is the disruption in livelihoods of those who work and live around the Gulf region. Fishermen have had to stop working for fear of bringing in polluted catches. People living near the water face the threat of oil washing disrupting their surroundings and endangering their health.

Another issue is the environmental impact felt by the animals in habitats in the Gulf.

As recently as Friday, a large oil slick that broke away from the main spill resulted in a number of birds’ being completely covered in oil. Even if they are rescued, many of these birds might not be able to bear the stress of such an experience.

Even after the immediate effects are seen to, the issues that created this problem will remain.

Earlier this year, BP asked Canada’s National Energy Board to repeal a 34-year-old law that required plans for relief wells to be implemented alongside new drilling ventures.

Relief wells, which have long been considered a vital part of preventing blowouts, could be drilled only two weeks after the initial blowout in the Gulf. Without a thorough plan to handle such incidents, BP has directly impacted the length and severity of the current oil spill.

Yet much of this might be overlooked by most, as evidenced by a recent report from National Public Radio. In several interviews conducted at a gas station in upstate New York, it was clear that despite paying attention to the oil spill, those pumping their gas saw no connection between themselves and the situation in the Gulf.

It’s not that there isn’t enough information about the BP oil spill in the news or on the Internet. It just seems that once everything — from capping the actual well to reimbursing fishermen — has been addressed, the potential that this disaster had to spur a new consciousness about energy might simply fade.

Despite being a few thousand miles away from the actual disaster, anyone who fuels up at a gas station or uses petroleum-based products had a hand in this disaster. Chances are that we haven’t let up on consuming any of the former in the past six weeks. I know I haven’t.

With images of oil-covered birds in our minds, right now seems like an ideal time to act.

Whether we believe it, we have contributed to the problem with our overdependence on oil. Realistically, we could drive more fuel-efficient cars or cut back slightly on our weekly mileage. Optimally, ordinary citizens and politicians will push for alternative sources of energy or demand safer practices from oil drilling companies.

By letting this disaster fade away without serious action, we risk having to wait for the next one to do so.

E-mail Hay at [email protected]

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