Alex Massie

Deepwater Horizon Latest: Perhaps Tony Hayward was Right?

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A remarkable headline in the New York Times today: Oil in Gulf Poses Only Slight Risk, New U.S. Report Says,

The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil rom the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.

A government report finds that about 26 percent of the oil released from BP’s runaway well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places.

[...] All told, the report calculates that about 74 percent of the oil has been effectively dealt with by capture, burning, skimming, evaporation, dissolution or dispersion. Much of the dissolved and dispersed oil can be expected to break down in the environment, though federal scientists are still working to establish the precise rate at which that is happening.

Of course, this report could be overly optimistic and the longer-term impact of shoving 4.9 million or so barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico remains to be seen. Nevertheless, perhaps Tony Hayward had a point when he suggested that, all things being considered, the Gulf was a pretty big place.

Now, it may be that the level of squawking outrage in the US helped persuade BP to mobilise resources more quickly than might have been the case otherwise but this, frankly, seems an unlikely notion since it's hard to fathom how reacting tardily could be in BP's interests. Equally, it may be that BP is going to face serious legal difficulties and quite possibly justifiably so.

Two other things: if this report is accurate then it's a reminder that, all things considered, nature's pretty resilient. That's not an argument for abandoning safety or environmental controls, merely a statement of the obvious fact that it seems to be quite difficult to kill a sea the size of the Gulf of Mexico.

Secondly, those media and political types who lost their minds entirely - eg, James Carville - should be ashamed of their hysteria. You'd have thought BP and the US government had conspired to murder Princess Diana or something similar, such was the screeching and wailing about the supposed tardiness of the response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Doubtless mistakes were made. How could they not be in coping with a disaster on this scale? Doubtless too, President Obama was damaged by the government's inability to quickly lock down a problem it had no ability to lock down. That may in part be a reflection on some of the inflated expectations that greeted his arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Still, to the extent that Deepwater Horizon has damaged the Democrats - "Obama's Katrina!" apparently - there's not likely to be much solace gained from the apparent fact that, at least in the short to medium term, the actual impact of the spill, thanks to nature and man's efforts, seems likely to be much less than had been thought or feared or suggested by a media culture that loves nothing better than to lose its head and any measure of proportion.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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