Revolution #209, July 26, 2010
The Capitalist Oil Catastrophe Is NOT Over
People Must Act to Stop It
The banner headline in the July 16 New Orleans Times-Picayune blared in big bold letters, "OIL FLOW HALTED." The day before, British Petroleum (BP) had, for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon well exploded on April 20, apparently stopped the flow of crude oil and methane gushing into—and poisoning—the Gulf of Mexico.
BP and government officials are putting out the message that "the worst is over" and "the end is now in sight." But whether or not the gusher is really capped—and this is NOT yet totally clear—this oil disaster is far from over. The environment and the people, particularly along the Gulf coast, remain seriously threatened:
* Within days of the announcement of the capping, there were reports that there was "a detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head," and that the Coast Guard commander in charge had ordered BP "to draw up an emergency plan for the possible reopening of the cap." (Washington Post and Agence France-Presse, both July 19, 2010). So while the cap may be working, it is also possible that the capping process will drag on for weeks, perhaps longer.
* It is also possible, according to various engineers, that what has been done so far may have actually damaged the well and made completely capping it more difficult, perhaps even impossible. At each point in this disaster, BP and the government have systemically withheld information and outright lied about what is really going on. So it is possible that more is going on with this latest "fix" than is being revealed to the public, and people must remain vigilant.
* Enormous amounts of crude oil remain in the Gulf. According to official estimates (which may be too low), 35,000-60,000 barrels a day of crude oil have poured into the Gulf from the blown well everyday from April 20 until its capping. BP and the Coast Guard now claim that a major portion of the surface oil has been removed through skimming, burning, and weather effects and that the rest is breaking down "quickly." But there are now at least 100-200 million gallons of toxic crude still in the Gulf.
* As much as 80% of the oil may be under the surface—much of it in giant plumes, some stretching 10 miles. The existence of these plumes—which government officials in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initially discounted, has now been proven by scientists.
* Oil has already washed into 630 miles of precious wetlands and ocean shores. But the bulk, a vast pool, remains offshore. There have been reports that it could get into the Gulf loop current and be carried to Florida and up into the Atlantic. Cuba and other Caribbean countries, even Europe, could be impacted.
* Hurricanes could sweep huge amounts of oil and toxic dispersants on shore—and the hurricane season has just started. The recent storm Bonnie turned out to be a "tropical depression," not a hurricane, but cleanup and drilling operations had to be stopped and there was talk of a possible 2-4 foot storm surge pushing oil into Louisiana marshes and beaches. Residents in low-lying areas were warned that oil-contaminated water could flood their homes and were told to avoid any contact with the water. Marine biologist Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project raised the question—what would happen if New Orleans is flooded again, but this time with water contaminated with oil and dispersants?
* No one knows the full extent of the devastation of marine life and other wildlife from this massive toxic nightmare, which has spread across huge regions of ocean filled with dolphins, fish, and turtles; into beautiful and amazing wetlands bursting with birds, crabs, oysters, alligators; into the barrier islands where brown pelicans and migratory birds have been nesting. Hundreds of birds, sea turtles, and dolphins have been found dead—the vast majority of animals killed by the oil disaster will never be found. Some scientists estimate that thousands of dolphins have already been killed. The next generation of hundreds of species of sea and coastal wildlife could well be devastated. Food webs in the Gulf will be laced with poison for no one knows how long and they could even face collapse.
* Scientist Samantha Joye, who has just been on the Gulf taking samples of the water, reported that the oil is now much more concentrated than when she first went out in May, and that 40% of what's gushed out of the well is methane gas—some concentrations at 100,000 times normal levels. Bacteria feed on this methane/oil mix and in the process use up oxygen, which may already be causing dead zones (water so depleted of oxygen that life can't even exist).
* There's been no systematic, publicly-available survey of the full extent of the threats to human health and lives posed by the catastrophe. Fumes and contact with this environment have poisoned people who are out on the waters or on the coastline. People's lives and livelihoods in many regions of the Gulf have been devastated and ruined.
* There are unknown and potentially catastrophic long-term impacts on ecosystems, marine life, wildlife, and human health. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled nearly nine million gallons of crude into the rich waters off the Alaska coast. It was four years later that much of the ecosystem collapsed, as new generations of marine creatures after the spill were born very vulnerable to the toxic mess and never survived or were damaged. The herring population, once rich in the area and a source of food for many other animals, was wiped out and has not reestablished itself 20 years after that spill.
All this points to the fact that this environmental and human catastrophe is far from over. An "all-hands-on-deck" people's response to stopping the disaster is as urgently needed as ever. We need to make sure that the gusher is actually stopped, that the toxic oil and chemicals now fouling the Gulf are cleaned up, that dispersant use which has been toxic, is halted immediately, and that the shores, wetlands, wildlife, marine life, and people are protected. And we need to dig into and expose the root causes of the oil blowout and the unconscionable response by BP and the government—and what that shows about this whole system and what it will take to prevent such catastrophes in the future and to really protect the planet and the people.
The Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster (stopgulfoildisaster.org) has called for protests globally on Friday, July 30: "100 Days of Outrage…Demand 100 Actions." Anyone who wants to stop the catastrophe and protect the Gulf, the people, and the planet should take part, wherever they are, in whatever way they can!
The System's Unconscionable Response to the Blowout
The Emergency Committee has called for building "a broad, determined, and powerful peoples' response." Why is this needed? Because "the government and British Petroleum have proven unable and unwilling to stop the disaster, protect the Gulf, or even tell the truth."
The response of BP, the Obama administration, and the whole power structure to the greatest environmental disaster yet in the history of the U.S. —and what may be the greatest oil disaster ever—has been shocking and outrageous:
- They've taken the very opposite of an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to stopping the gusher and dealing with the enormous effects on the environment and the people. Why weren't Exxon and Shell forced to send tankers, engineers and technology to help cap the gusher? Why have the thousands who volunteered to help been met with red tape and delays or never heard back from anyone after signing up?
- At each and every point, BP and the government have lied and covered up the full scope of the gusher and the reasoning for all the various fixes they have proposed and then abandoned up to now.
- They've used the toxic chemical dispersant Corexit on an unprecedented scale—nearly two million gallons—even though the manufacturer's (Nalco) own data state that Corexit mixed with oil makes the oil five times more deadly than oil alone, and about 10 times more deadly than the dispersant alone. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency's tests, which were used to justify their decision to okay BP's use of Corexit, did not test the toxicity of oil and Corexit together. So BP and the government made the environmental disaster worse in order to prevent oil from washing up onshore in massive amounts and push as much oil as possible out of sight. (See "Consensus Statement: Scientists oppose the use of dispersant chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico.")
- They have suppressed scientific research and public information on the size and impact of the gushing oil, the threats to human health, wildlife and marine life—which includes threatening, harassing and blocking journalists and the public—in order to prevent them from seeing and reporting on the full extent of the ecological horror BP and the government have created in the Gulf.
- They have attempted to enforce passivity among the people through stonewalling and bureaucratic delays for volunteers; threats against and gag orders on people hired for cleanup efforts; town hall meetings and massive advertising campaigns aimed at falsely assuring people that BP and the government really care and are doing all that is possible; and making many people in affected communities dependent on BP for any kind of livelihood.
All this has been unconscionable and has led to enormous costs in terms of ecological destruction and human suffering.
Why have BP and the U.S. government acted in the way they have? Because this has been a capitalist oil disaster—and a capitalist response to the disaster—at every level. The disaster itself was caused by the fact that under capitalism, everything is a commodity produced for profit. Under this system, the resources of the natural world are plundered without regard for ecological consequences. Production is privately owned and driven forward by cut-throat "expand-or-die" competition on a global scale. The time horizons of capitalism are short term. The system is driven by the need to maximize profits and to gain advantage in the market. (For more background, see previous coverage in Revolution and Raymond Lotta's talk, "A Capitalist Oil Spill…A System Not Fit to Be Caretakers of the Planet…And the Revolution We Need," available online at revolutionbooksnyc.org.)
And the U.S. government—representing the overall interests of the whole capitalist-imperialist system—allowed BP and others to recklessly drill 5,000 feet underwater, with NO IDEA of how to stop an oil spill at that depth. (Previous experiences with oil blowouts were in shallow waters, like at Ixtoc in Mexico in 1979, which took months and months to stop. To assume that the physics and mechanics are the same at much deeper levels is total irresponsibility and dishonesty in the service of profit.)
The question of oil and fossil fuels is bigger than BP as a major capitalist corporation. Through the 20th century and continuing today, oil has had everything to do with power and empire. Control over oil and other fossil fuels is not only a source of profits, but of leverage over other economies that depend on oil. Control over oil is a source of economic and geopolitical power in the world capitalist system. U.S. economic dominance in the world is inseparable from its military strength—from its bullying, wars of occupation and control, and global network of bases. And one of the dirty little secrets of empire is that the U.S. military is the single largest purchaser of oil in the world.
When disaster struck, the government continued to defend the interests of BP, the oil industry, and the capitalist system overall. They could not tell the truth about the catastrophe—because that would have further undermined the legitimacy of the government and the whole system. They could not mobilize the masses of people and make other corporations help in the response—because this would collide with private ownership and control (BP's). Think about it: BP's reckless pursuit of private profit has led to a monumental social disaster—that is affecting the economy, society, and environment far beyond BP's operations. And yet it has been left to BP to deal with this crisis.
Obama enacted a temporary and limited moratorium on deep-water drilling, while making clear that offshore drilling must continue to be part of the U.S. energy strategy. But already, before the BP well is even fully capped, before any investigation into the causes of the disaster is complete, and before any new technologies have been developed that could conceivably stop another blowout—there is a rising clamor from the oil giants and powerful forces in the ruling class to resume deep-water drilling immediately.
On July 12, the Obama-appointed commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill opened its hearings in New Orleans. This "independent" commission, which was supposedly looking into the causes of the disaster, became a platform for advocating the resumption of oil drilling. (The commission is a way to help the system deal with the deep fallout and exposure from this oil catastrophe.)
As the hearings began, a supporter of Revolution newspaper stood up, newspaper in hand, and disrupted the opening of the hearings in an action covered in the national media, including MSNBC and the Today show. He declared: "This commission is illegitimate, the people responsible for these crimes have no right to be investigating them. This is a capitalist oil spill and this system is not fit to be caretaker of the planet."
There was more truth in those few moments than in days of Commission hearings and months of official statements and bourgeois media coverage.
Turbulent, Oil-Fouled Political Waters…And the Urgent Need for a People's Response
The representatives of this system, at all levels, have been very active during this crisis—not to act on real solutions, but to limit the damage to their interests. State and national officials frequently come through Louisiana to hold press conferences and visit affected areas. Meetings take place nearly every week in various parishes (counties) involving BP, EPA, Coast Guard and other government officials, designed to reassure (often in the face of deep anger, distrust, and cynicism among the people) that the powers-that-be care, they're listening, they're doing all they can, they're sorry, blah, blah, blah.
All this is taking place amid deep contradictions and complex maneuvering among ruling class forces. Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal is posturing as a front-line, "can-do," take-charge "general" in the battle against the oil spill. He has criticized the clean-up effort and blamed Washington and the Obama administration.
The fascist Tea Party has also been very active—going after Washington and "big government," and specifically blaming Obama, but in a way that covers up and enlists people behind the interests of the whole setup that produced this environmental and economic disaster. A July 21 "Rally for Economic Survival" organized by Republicans, business leaders, and Tea Party forces at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana, drew 11,000 people, plus 4,000 on live webcast. Speaking in the name of small businesses and the "common man," they claim that letting the big oil companies get back to "drill baby drill"—even more unregulated environmental rape and a more "hands-off" government approach to worker safety—is the only hope for those in desperate economic hardship. This when, in reality, both the enormous environmental devastation and the economic suffering and uncertainty are products of capitalism's relentless and brutal profit-seeking nature.
In this intense and rapidly changing mix, revolutionaries, radicals, progressives, environmentalists, and other political groups have also been active in various ways.
This has included the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster. The Committee was formed following a June 19 Emergency Summit held in New Orleans in order to provide a vehicle for many, many people to act to stop the disaster in the face of BP and the government's refusal to do so. Its Mission Statement calls for mobilization of diverse forces—activists, impacted communities, environmentalists, scientists—on a nationwide, even global, basis to stop the catastrophe. It has issued seven demands that speak to all the dimensions of the crisis and provide concrete focuses for action.
In a little over a month, the Committee has actively protested the actions of both BP and the government including: holding the first demonstration at the Joint Unified Command headquarters (in charge of the response to the disaster); intervening in BP-government "town hall" meetings; protesting outside and speaking inside at the Obama Commission hearings; demonstrating when VP Joe Biden visited the area; joining the protests of other groups; and issuing many statements to the press, which have been widely covered. (See stopgulfoildisaster.org for the Mission Statement, demands, press coverage, and accounts of its actions, and other important information.)
Overall, the Committee's Mission Statement, its demands, and its actions represent an alternative pole to the authority claimed by BP and the government to continue pursuing their own interests in the crisis—rather than going all out to protect the environment and the people.
Much more needs to be done. There's an urgent need to uncover, and for people to understand, the full scope of this ongoing catastrophe. The Committee's Mission Statement, demands, and determined spirit need to reach many, many more people. The organized independent mass action and truth-telling is needed on a society-wide scale.
Taking action, marking the 100th day of the disaster on Friday, July 30 is an important juncture for pushing forward and making the voice of the people heard. As the Committee's call for the protest states, "We're not stopping until the well is sealed and the Gulf is healed."
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