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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 June 2010

Oil spill is 'worst environmental disaster' to hit US

Extent of surface oil slick on May 24 2010, photo by NASA

Extent of surface oil slick on May 24 2010, What lies below is unknown. photo by NASA

THE OIL spill in the Gulf of Mexico following the fatal explosion on the BP leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig has exceeded the Exxon Valdez catastrophe of 1989, when eleven million gallons of crude oil devastated the pristine Alaskan coastline.

A White House energy official described the Gulf of Mexico spill as the worst environmental disaster ever to affect the USA. So far, all of BP's efforts to plug the leaking well - located 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea - have failed.

President Barack Obama, under pressure of mass outrage, has said he 'won't lift the boot off BP's throat' until the situation is rectified. But Obama is all too aware that he can do little to halt this unfolding disaster. The lack of any contingency planning to deal with this type of disaster underlines the weakness of the US administration.

The political reality is that Big Oil and US governments have always colluded, with the profits from selling fossil fuels satisfying their respective interests.

Only one month before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing eleven workers, Obama announced the expansion of drilling licences operating off the US's Atlantic and Alaskan coastlines.

Offshore deepwater drilling contracts - with oil rigs operating at the limits of existing technology - are managed by the US federal regulatory agency, Minerals Management Services (MMS). However, MMS is hopelessly compromised by its remit to both oversee safety in the oil industry and to collect tax revenues from the industry, which amounts to $13 billion annually.

Media reports refer to lax safety standards at the MMS, with oil companies routinely filling in their own safety forms. And, according to The Guardian newspaper, staff at MMS "accepted tickets to sporting events, lunches and hunting trips from oil and gas firms" (29/5/10).

The exposure of clean-up workers to the oil and to the chemical dispersants being used on the oil slick is causing health problems.

So far five oil rigs in the Gulf have been shut down following the spill after workers became ill. And seven clean-up workers on a boat had to be take to hospital after complaining of nausea, headaches, burning eyes and chest pains. Incredibly, US government officials told reporters that sunstroke could have caused the workers' sickness!

Alarmingly, BP has threatened to sack any oil clean-up worker who turns up to work wearing a respirator, according to Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was a disaster waiting to happen. Big Oil is increasingly drilling in deep water conditions because 'peak oil' is rapidly approaching, ie the point in time when the maximum rate of global oil extraction is reached.

But instead of governments taking over the profit hungry energy giants and switching energy sources away from fossil fuels to sustainable and renewable energy supplies, they remain beholden to Big Oil.

Clearly, only workers' governments with socialist energy policies could protect the environment.

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