By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Now that BP has successfully capped the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, almost everyone has a tempering comment on this fragile victory.
Soon after the oil flow into the ocean was stopped Thursday afternoon using the latest “sealing cap” device placed over the well, BP officials began cautioning about too much celebration.
Yes, the leaking oil well had ceased polluting the ocean for the first time since the wellhead exploded on April 20; but the fix may not be permanent, they said, a sentiment corroborated by an ominous note on the company’s website this Friday morning about rising pressure in the device: “Currently the well remains shut-in with no oil flowing into the Gulf; any significant change to this operation will be announced via a press release. Pressure continues to rise and is currently above 6700 psi.”
Rising pressure, of course, is what caused the rupture of the mile-deep well in the first place, leading to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform, the death of 11 crew members and the onset of what is now considered the nation’s worst environmental disaster.
Despite the cap’s success, the only permanent fixes will come from relief wells that will divert the oil and relieve that dangerous pressure, BP has said throughout this summer-long oil spill. The first of those adjacent wells may be completed by the end of this month, or early August. “Relief well operations continue throughout this period and remain the sole means to permanently seal and isolate the well,” the oil giant reported this week.
Indeed, after an initial burst of elation yesterday, pretty much everyone, from oyster workers to the governor of Louisiana, moderated their excitement in light of this disaster’s long shelf life. Untold barrels of oil remain in the gulf, splattering beaches, choking wildlife, oiling birds and mammals and corrupting the food system from everything from shrimp to sharks.
“It is too early to declare victory….” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a statement. “Our battles don’t end even when the well is capped. Millions of gallons of oil are still in the Gulf and some estimates show that oil will continue to hit our shores for many more months or maybe even longer.”
Even President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings apparently have been smeared by the oil spill, cautioned that the latest win is just one leg of what will be a marathon clean up. He told reporters Friday that he hopes Americans don’t take the visuals — the video of the non-leaking well site — too literally.
The visuals do not mean that the oil disaster is over, Obama said. “We’ve still got a big job to do.”
To many, that big job involves getting the nation off fossil fuels and into an aggressive clean energy program. The Sierra Club used this latest milestone in the gulf to warn that “wherever there is offshore drilling we risk disaster.”
“The oil industry argues that this was an isolated event,” said Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement. “We agree–research confirms that oil catastrophes are strictly isolated to oil industry operations. We have not yet found oil spills at wind farms, nor have we found evidence of gushers erupting in solar plants or marshlands devastated by business owners retrofitting their buildings. The best way to prevent another oil disaster is to shift away from oil and onto clean energy.
“If this capping of the oil gusher holds, it is a moment for celebration. We must not, however, ever forget the three months during which BP egregiously mishandled its disaster. It is even more important that we remind ourselves that this problem is much bigger than BP. The entire oil industry has been skirting safety regulations and lobbying against clean energy for years. Over and over again we’ve paid the price.
“Now that the leaking oil appears to be controlled, we need to address the problem that led to it. We need President Obama to stand up to the oil industry. We need a plan to move America off of oil and onto clean energy.”
Congress is working on various aspects of a potential large clean energy bill, which could include a Renewable Electricity Standard, carbon pollution restrictions on utilities, money for “clean coal” and tax incentives for renewable energy development such as wind, solar and geothermal power. But Congress is not expected to tax oil or coal companies, which produce the most carbon pollution, or enact a cap-and-trade program favored by many environmental groups as a way to shift the country toward clean energy.
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