OPINION

Oil spill challenges

The continuous flow of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico due to a BP oil rig explosion on April 22 may prove fatal not just for the British-based petrol giant but for the political future of US President Barack Obama as well. Many – and not just members of the conservative Tea Party movement – are already likening the magnitude of this event to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and positing that natural disasters reveal the ineptitude of political authority, just as Katrina did in the case of George W. Bush’s administration. It is true that Obama delayed taking decisive action in the wake of the explosion and preferred to maintain his trademark cool and optimistic stance. His reaction came nearly two months late, and did nothing to quell the fears of the people most affected by the disaster, which may well end up ranking as one of the worst in recent global history. According to reports by Russian experts who dove down to a depth of 6,000 meters in a special submarine, oil is not streaming out of the original pipeline but from a total of 18 holes that have opened up in the seabed. The Russian experts submitted their classified report to the White House but the magnitude of the disaster has been confirmed by other officials, including Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Matthew Simmons, former energy adviser to ex-President George W. Bush. If the leaks are not plugged, these officials argue, they could continue spewing oil for another 30 years, polluting the entire Atlantic Ocean. The Russians have proposed using controlled nuclear explosions to block the leaks, a technique that was used repeatedly in the Soviet Union from 1966 to 1981. The American government, however, has rejected this idea fearing that this could also deplete the huge reserves of oil under the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, 7.5 million liters of oil are leaking into the sea on a daily basis. The leak is a dramatic illustration of the risks of chaotic human intervention in the natural environment but it also underscores the need for a change in the oil-dependent mentality that has prevailed around the world since the late 20th century.