Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Drilling On Hold, But Torture May Proceed

Just because President Obama put a five-year kibosh on oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic doesn't mean that the ocean is now safe for whales and other marine life. Far from it.

Oil companies will still be free to blast away with underwater sonic cannons, prospecting for every last barrel of goo hiding beneath the ocean floor. They will be free to damage and destroy marine life in the process. They'll be free to hasten the extinctions already underway due to man-made climate change. 

Call it pre-emptive plunder. The thinking behind the White House giving approval to exploration without immediate extraction is that once the current global oil glut depletes itself,  and higher prices make it worth the market god's while, the multinationals will have their mother lodes all mapped out for them. They're simply being proactive. 

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently considering eight separate applications for seismic blast testing for oil and gas in the Atlantic. To visualize what this "mapping" will do to wildlife, try to imagine undergoing a diagnostic ultrasound in the middle of a war zone. Imagine that submitting yourself to such a test would not only render you permanently deaf,  it would also very likely drive you insane. Imagine that the sound would be so loud that you would lose all sense of direction and not even be able to find your way home from the clinic. Imagine if you had your children with you, and the sonic blast had the effect of making you forget that you even had children.

That is what oil company sonic blasting will do to whales, sea turtles and other sentient beings. The sound can travel underwater for more than 2,000 miles to do its damage. According to marine conservation scientist Douglas Nowacek, the sound blasts can reach 260 decibels and continue for weeks or months on end.

 “Each survey would discharge its airguns approximately every 10 or 12 seconds, and would operate 24 hours per day," he told Congress last year.  "If these permits are granted, ocean animals located in that wide area of the Atlantic Ocean would be exposed to noise levels that are likely to cause impacts and to disrupt essential behavior patterns.”  

To suggest that the Obama administration's approval for this testing is tantamount to approving torture is actually quite an understatement.

As Oceana's Ingrid Biedron points out, “Since the Atlantic has been removed from drilling for the next five years, there’s no immediate need for companies to prospect for oil and gas in this way. We’d encourage them, and the government, to wait until there is safer technology available before going ahead with this.”

Asking predatory capitalists to wait for anything is asking way too much, of course. That their quest for more oil and more profits has already done irreparable damage to all the species inhabiting our precious planet is simply what neoliberal economists label an "externality," and what the masters of war label collateral damage.

And Obama's reasons for placing a five-year moratorium on Atlantic drilling actually have little to do with protecting the environment. His administration simultaneously approved ten new leasing sites in the Gulf of Mexico and another three off the Arctic coast. The decisions to halt drilling in the Arctic were made by the oil companies themselves -- the cost-benefit analyses simply did not work out in their favor.

And wasn't only environmentalists and tourism concerns that put pressure on the president to halt Atlantic drilling. It was the United States military brass. Underwater drilling by oil companies would damage the Pentagon's ability to play their war games on the Atlantic high seas and also interfere with the training exercises and other testing that they conduct on the Eastern coastline.

So when Big Oil is up against Big Forever War, the bigger, faster death obviously wins. But Big Oil dare not complain too much, seeing as how the Pentagon uses more of its polluting product than all other government agencies combined. As a matter of fact, the American military contributes more to global warming than any other institution on the planet. And miracle of miracles: the Pentagon enjoys blanket exemption from all international climate change agreements. So, as long as the wars continue, so will the current oil glut diminish, so will the oil companies' profits ooze back up in a giant blob of cash.

As Herbert Melville observed in his own anti-capitalist whale of a tale (Moby Dick): "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!” 


voice-in-wilderness said...

The test as to whether a politician understands the urgency of global warming is whether they advocate keeping known reserves in the ground, unburned. Particularly coal reserves, since "clean coal" is the ultimate oxymoron. In the United States I expect you'd be hard pressed to find a politician in office who will say that, certainly not in the U.S. Congress.

Jay–Ottawa said...

To think we used to laugh darkly at the yahoo bumper sticker: Nuke the Whales! The Obama Administration, without calling up nukes from the Pentagon, can achieve the same result, or better, to clear the ocean of fish big and small (collateral damage) to explore how oil platforms can be used more efficiently in the near future. You're not against American know-how, efficiency and exploration, are you?

"Exploration" makes you think about bright and brave souls pushing back frontiers in biology as well as geography. Ah, the history and the science and the glamour we attach to the word exploration.

Look out. "Exploration" has also been used here, there and elsewhere for decades as a cover for full-bore drilling for oil when drilling for oil, or engaging in some other form of mining, wasn't legal, yet. So, only "exploration" gets OK'd by loose legislators writing looser laws drafted by the explorers themselves. We should probably react to this kind of "exploration" the same way nations reacted to "mobilization" in August 1914. It's a declaration of war.

On the other side of the Atlantic, organized protesters in the south of France––that's right, the paradise of Provence and all that where fresh water is becoming very scarce––have been stamping their feet on the cobble-stone streets for years in an attempt to stop very busy frackers claiming: "Hey, we're just exploring." The so-called lefty Francois Hollande administration is OK with this. Just like the lefty Barack Obama administration in the US.

Boom the Whales! Boom the Frogs!

Kat said...

Here's the main players.
Denmark is finding global warming just peachy as it exposes the riches of Greenland.
Canada is involved in war games in case they have to defend their claims.
Unfortunately it does not seem like anyone is serious about protecting the Arctic.

Leo Noel said...

hey karen, once again your scathing commentary and razor wit has made my day. thank you.

us humanoids are a hubristic lot, don't ya think?

speaking of dirty energy and corrupt governments, in the unlikely event that some collective eureka moment materializes, i posit that in lieu of building gargantuan surveillance centers and more prisons that we instead erect massive structures with hundreds of thousands (millions?) of electricity-generating stationary bicycles. i'm no physicist and am going off half-cocked with this idea, just planting seeds as it were, but surely that much pedal power could produce a viable amount of electricity with the added bonus of jobs galore, thereby putting a simultaneous dent in the high unemployment and waistline numbers that currently plague the empire.

Unknown said...

Karen, thanks for an important column. I just canceled my Times subscription in protest over their political coverage. I will be sending you the money I was sending the Times to support the journalism you're doing -- and encourage others reading this to do the same. Thank you, Karen. Here's my sayonara/response to Blow's column...

Mr. Blow, your most recent column (“Bernie or Bust”) inspired me to cancel my subscription to the New York Times, after 30 years a reader. Your column is the rotten cherry atop six months of Times political coverage so bad that your Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has called the paper out for it — twice. How dare you question my convictions for voting my principles? I have been voting -- and sending money to and campaigning for -- the Democratic Party's lesser-evil appeasement candidates since Dukakis. No more. I refuse to vote my fears any longer. My vote is here to be earned, it's for the taking, on the merits, by any candidate whose platform and record reconcile with my beliefs as an FDR Democrat. The only way the Democratic Party is going to rediscover its progressive roots and connect with its broad base is when the rank-and-file stop supporting the DNC’s Republican-lite candidates; candidates who put corporations over workers, industry over the environment and the American war machine over all. It’s not too late for you to have your own "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" moment.

Ste-vo said...

I read, my first book in 2015, "In the Heart of the Sea - The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The jacket tells us that......."this epic story - which inspired the climactic scene in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick - to its rightful place in American history. Chapter 3 is titled "First Blood." It is an excruciatingly lurid description of the ship's first encounter and slaughter of a whale just a few days out of Nantucket. It made me ill. I had to stop reading it for a few days. And for the rest of the book, in each case, I rooted for the whale.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Off topic, but this is a real scoop.

Just when I thought Bernie was channeling St Francis preaching to the birdies and that I should probably be a little less standoffish about Bernie leading up to election day, Seymour Hersh, Matt Taibbi and Paul Street in the latest Rolling Stone reveal that the little bird flitting around Bernie's podium the other day was one of those incredible little drones made to look like real birds. You've already seen pictures of those devices as seagulls and humming birds. Even beetles on the wall, so I've heard. Apparently, the latest drone model in the fake bird category is the sparrow, or whatever that darling little thing in front of Bernie was supposed to look like. How do the technicians accomplish such wonders?

Anyway, once the drone-bird revelation came out, the question then became who pulled this off and exactly who was supposed to benefit? Was it just a stupid trick by an apolitical nerd who put the whole thing together in his garage? Or was some evil shadow from the Dark State trying to discredit Bernie somehow? Photos of Bernie's benign regard at the drone sparrow perched on his mug will now be used to discredit him by bloggers with twisted minds. People will say Bernie was in on the stunt to give him more press attention. I can't wait for the cartoonists to have their day with Bernie and the bird. The next step will be for imaginative pundits to match up the appropriate bird for each candidate and then tell us why the parrot or the vulture belongs with yadda, yadda, yadda.

The NY Times, which is the only paper some of you look at, probably won't carry the story; but you can find the whole Hersh/Taibbi/Street piece at this link.

annenigma said...

Jay, I read that Paul Street article yesterday and saw no mention of a bird drone. Reread it today and I still don't see it. Nor do I see anything at the Rolling Stone.

April Fool?

Jay–Ottawa said...

Please, Anne, no spoilers this early in the day.

annenigma said...

My spies tell me that Hillary ordered that drone mission. It landed on target but the turd payload that was supposed to squirt onto Bernie's suit malfunctioned. The Secret Service is investigating.

Will said...

That article at couterpunch was amazing, Jay. I also hate April Fool's Day, so I am NOT amused by your silly antics this morning--especially given the seriousness of the subject matter. I thought you were better than that.

Jk u big doofus :)

Jay–Ottawa said...

Will, Is that you? You'd been absent here for so long, I feared ... well, never mind. Anyway, how else could I get the Times-addicted crowd––and you too, Will, hanging out over there at YouTube––to read that Counterpunch article on the big contenders. Glad you liked the article by Street. And I hope you and Anne will be in my corner when Hersh and Taibbi come after me.

"It takes a drone to raze a village." [copyright, 1 Apr 2016]