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John Hopkins
John Hopkins
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BP, Oil, and My Beautiful Florida


Florida waters filled with oil, sludge, and tar balls is something I simply can not forgive. For me, there is insufficient punishment for allowing something like this to happen. And, as pointed out by fellow blogger Danny Feldman, this was no "accident". Rather, given regulators’ conduct and, more importantly, BP’s conduct, the oil spill in the Gulf was simply an inevitable — the question was only when would it happen.

I live on five acres of land in the "back country" of Palm Beach County, Florida. My house sits in the middle of land that used to be entirely swamp and, when we get the rains, it is often transformed back to its "natural state". I love the wildlife and the flora; the raccoon, bobcats, hawks, snakes and gators are all welcome on my land. They were there first anyway. It is simply a heaven made on earth.

I love diving. I am too old to walk in space and the pleasure of diving 80 feet below the surface is breathtaking. The wildlife in that underworld is every bit as glorious as it is on my little piece of heaven. There are few things in this world more beautiful than a coral reef– a formation of living animals– glorious in its multitude of colors and shapes. A reef filled with fish of every color and description. The unique opportunity to be close to shark, barracuda, clown fish, sponge, and all the other glorious wildlife is priceless.

Florida exists largely because people north of us and people across the water have always liked to visit here. People like to come here and fish. People like to come here and see our beaches. The fishing industry; the diving industry; the hotel industry; and the entire tourism industry stands to be economically destroyed by the conduct of BP Oil. It is all happening right in my backyard.

So, these are just some of the reasons I have grown to loathe BP as a corporation; as a corporate citizen; and as a representation of all that is wrong in corporate America.

What could have and should have been done differently?

I am a realist. I recognize that, like it or not, we need oil. It is a necessary evil for at least some period of time.

As a regulator, what should the government have done and be doing concerning the grant of rights to drill oil in our waters and in our treasured wilderness?

Think about what you or I would have probably said to any oil company wanting to drill in the Gulf or even in the Alaskan wildlife preserve:

  • You can drill there all you like as long as it is done with every safety measure that can be put into place.
  • We will form an independent regulatory committee of engineers and environmental experts. Their sole job will be to make sure you employ every safety measure.
  • You and any partners will place 5% of all your respective profits into an interest bearing account into perpetuity; as a fund to be used for clean-up and compensation in the event of an "accident".
  • You will agree to be solely and unequivocally responsible for all costs or damages associated with an oil spill of any kind or magnitude.

Am I being too hard on BP? Is Rand Paul, the latest in Tea Party creations, correct when he characterizes this disaster as:

"You hear it all the time – accidents happen. You can’t take misfortune out of the realm of possibility. Suing over an "accident" shows what is wrong with us as a country – we want to "blame" someone for every little thing in life that goes wrong."

Well, let’s look at an April Wall Street Journal article, which set forth what could (should) have been done by BP to possibly (probably) have avoided this disaster:

The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

The U.K., where BP is headquartered, doesn’t require the use of acoustic triggers.

On all offshore oil rigs, there is one main switch for cutting off the flow of oil by closing a valve located on the ocean floor. Many rigs also have automatic systems, such as a "dead man" switch as a backup that is supposed to close the valve if it senses a catastrophic failure aboard the rig.

As a third line of defense, some rigs have the acoustic trigger: It’s a football-sized remote control that uses sound waves to communicate with the valve on the seabed floor and close it.

An acoustic trigger costs about $500,000, industry officials said. The Deepwater Horizon had a replacement cost of about $560 million, and BP says it is spending $6 million a day to battle the oil spill. On Wednesday, crews set fire to part of the oil spill in an attempt to limit environmental damage.

So, for around a million dollars in savings, give or take, BP has wrought billions of dollars in destruction on 4 or 5 entire states. BP will have caused the near or total collapse of economies in 4 or 5 states. And BP will have caused the deaths of untold numbers of wildlife and ecological areas.

Extracting the full compensation of BP’s conduct will be impossible. Sea gulls, sharks, and whales are largely victims without a voice and without full representation.

Extracting the fair compensation due to the states and the citizens of the states is also going to be something, which requires deliberate, thoughtful and expert handling. We should take a cautious approach to allowing BP to provide the fullest compensation possible and be sure the full extent of the damages they have caused can be completely evaluated.


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  1. Tom Degan says:
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    Why would Rand Paul go on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program earlier this week and imply that he would not have supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had he been there to vote on it. Did he really believe that there would be any possible political gain by doing something as reckless and as silly as that?

    The answer is – Yes he did – and here’s the really sad part: He was probably correct to believe there would be a substantial political payoff in the long run for making such an egregiously ignorant remark. Just take a look around you….

    The political landscape of this once-great nation is more tarnished than at any time in the last half century. The right wing media, with FOX Noise in the lead, has created from scratch an industry whose whole purpose is to mine racial fears against the first African American president in American history. For many years – right up until the moment Barack Obama took the oath of office – racism in America was, for the most part, covert. On January 20, 2009 it became – in too many corners of this country to count – overt. It is all around us and is being encouraged.


    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  2. Mark Bello says:
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    John: I live in Michigan, the “great lakes” state, a state with many inland lakes and marvelous natural resources like you describe in Florida. I am one who, as you decribe in your wonderfully written post, loves to visit Florida in the winter time; I love to stay in locations on or near the ocean so I can walk the beach, hunt for shells, ride the waves. The thought of seeing massive polution on a beach in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Texas, especially after personally visiting the Gulf region after Katrina, is appalling. There is plently of blame to go around; I remember the cries of “drill baby, drill” during the last election. Here, though, the principal blame lies with a company BP, and an industry, the oil industry, that could have and should have put safety mechanisms in place to prevent this type of disaster. Shame on our government for letting them operate in our precious waters without the types of safeguards your thoughtful post describes. Shame on the industry for needing the government to enforce safety standards that the industry already knew were necessary but were too cheap to implement. And shame on us for continuing to permit huge corporations and their lobbying dollars dictate what happens to our environment. It is time to cast our votes for people who cannot be bought by lobbyists for corporate interests.

  3. Bernard says:
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    Help me to multiplicate my plan.
    Several days ago I send the plan to BP and the White House – I got nice and friendly response, not more. I hate that because I am engineer and I know a lot.
    I was very concerned and angry reading this morning “TOP KILL DIDN’T WORK!”