The April 20 Gulf of Mexico Deep Horizon oil spill disaster, with its seemingly infinitely expanding crude oil slick, has been reminiscent of the 1958 movie “The Blob,” starring a 27-year-old Steven McQueen (later his moniker changed to just “Steve”). The trailers for the old movie warned, “Beware of the Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.”
You will recall that the “Blob” forever enlarged like a giant amoeba and terrorized only one town. Our most recent iteration of an environmental conundrum is, on the other hand, of such proportions that new units of measure have had to be invented to quantify the nightmarish coverage of the expanding oil slick. Remember when it was the size of Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas?
The roiling swill emanating from the 21-inch-diameter hole in the planet is, first of all, a lesson in physics. The punctured ocean floor has a water pressure, one mile below the water’s surface, of about one ton per square inch. That means that the flow of oil jetting out of the hole is coming out at a pressure with forces that must be greater than one ton per square inch. Multiplied by the area of the opening of the 21-inch oil pipe, one sees a frightening magnitude of expanding pollution.
The tectonic pressure of the suboceanic landmass, the top of which is a mile deep, exerts that pressure, which must be, by physical definition, greater than one ton per square inch. In fact, tectonic pressures dramatically exceed this number.
When confronted with disasters, our culture has been bathed in the expectation that a cadre of nerdy scientists will always come to the rescue. Apollo 13 comes to mind. This is also what reassuringly happened in “The Blob” and, for example, in “Invaders from Mars.” However, I am here to tell you that this story will not end with an Ed Helms-type character (see the movie “Hangover”), armed only with pens, pen protector and a barely functioning duct-taped Apple laptop, to the rescue.
And, foremost, this disaster will not end with so many politicians riding in on white helicopters to “assess the damage” and reflexively chiding British Petroleum into a solution for which these same politicians will ultimately and perversely take credit.
Do BP’s efforts genuinely eventuate from political pressures exerted upon them? Were it not for the kicking-them-while-they-are-down admonitions from our leaders, would the oil behemoth just walk away? This situation is not a Democratic or Republican issue except by self-serving proxy in the name of fodder for condescending pontifications spewing from our leaders.
Geophysical realities are blind to such blame. Splitting atoms, erecting windmills, burning hydrocarbons and damming rivers teases nature… Given that nature is a compendium of random events guided by the laws of physics, we are simply stuck for a while with another example of humans playing with matches and occasionally starting fires.
So what are we learning from this cascading catastrophe?
From a technological side, it is a given that “Big Petroleum” will, in the end, cap the well and have in the future, at the ready, a set of devices in their inventory that will more speedily and more decisively allow intercession on everyone’s behalf.
But what role is there here for the politicians?
From them, we will continue to see scapegoating and sausage making … and, please, there is enough pepperoni on our pizza already.
The most helpful, altruistic action that might be taken by our members of Congress and President, would be to grab shovels and, beyond the camera range of CNN and Fox, shovel oil-saturated sand into recyclable bags.
If this disaster were a movie, I would pine for the scene toward the end of the film when an irascible, overheated Harrison Ford shoves a couple of politicians aside, growling, “I’ve got work to do … get me a damn cup of coffee.”
Finally, in the name of transparency, the Gulf mishap is not a movie.