Wind farm, anyone?

by Brian Clarey

Oh the folly of human endeavor, as evidenced by the gusher deep on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico spewing some 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the heretofore crystalline waters off of Louisiana.

As if the Gulf Coast, much of which still reels from the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina, didn’t have enough problems.

British Petroleum, which owns the malfunctioning rig, has problems now, too. The oil spill, which should keep growing until the end of this week under even the most optimistic of plans, has crippled area fisheries and contaminated Louisiana’s protective — and protected — wetlands. BP has announced it will pay for the cleanup, including business and property losses and personal injury claims, though a spokesperson was careful to deflect corporate responsibility towards the independent contractor operating the rig, Transocean Ltd., which is conducting an investigation of its own.

The blamestorming rages on. Rush Limbaugh floated one particularly disturbing conspiracy theory — that the explosion on the rig which caused the leak was intentional, set by pragmatic environmental advocates to derail with President Obama’s new energy plan, which calls for increased drilling off our coasts.

One must admit, the timing could not have been more fortuitous for those who oppose offshore drilling: a catastrophic event that neatly answers the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” But unlike the SEC lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, which suspiciously dovetailed with the Obama administration’s efforts at financial reform, an explosion on an oil rig is significantly more difficult to achieve than finding evidence of fraud on Wall Street.

And while it may be satisfying in the short term to assign blame, viable solutions are in short supply.

The spill is supplied by three separate leaks on the floor of the gulf, which will have to be addressed one at a time. Meanwhile, oil has reached the Louisiana coast and entered the mouth of the Mississippi River. It threatens a national wildlife refuge and some of the nation’s most prolific oyster beds and shrimp-fishing grounds. Damages will be measured in billions of dollars and over a decade or so — the last spill of this magnitude, the Exxon Valdez disaster, which loosed 10 million gallons or across 1,300 square miles of Prince William Sound, still affects wildlife, tourism and fisheries off Alaska more than 20 years later.

Of course, some effects are more immediate. Obama has called off any new offshore drilling until the leaks have been plugged and properly assessed. And for a lot of Americans — even those from the Drill Baby Drill camp — wind farms are starting to look pretty good.

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