AMERICA’S WORST MAN-MADE CATASTROPHE
My dear elderly yet very vigorous friend has said about this disastrous oil spill, “BP has done more damage to harm the American homeland than al-Qaeda could ever do.” That indictment must be the greatest leveled at not only this largest British company but at the direct supervision and control that President Obama admitted of his own Administration in his press conference a few minutes ago.
Right from the start of this huge crisis, it has been an unmitigated disaster. The US government has finally admitted that between 19 and 39 million gallons of oil have been spilt – not what BP has been claiming of 5,000 barrels per day.
I bring a different perspective to this largest of all American oil spills that will affect the waters and the coastlines of the Gulf for many years to come. In 1979 I was named the President and CEO of the International Oil Spill Control Corporation (IOSCC). We formed this company to serve the nation-members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). They did not have oil spill control systems that could protect their waters and shores. The Coast Guards of the United States, Canada and the European countries did have oil spill control capabilities within their organizations. There facilities varied from country to country. However, we always felt that the so-called “developed countries” had it right and could handle oil spill control. How wrong we were!!!
So thirty-two years ago I started in oil spill control. At the time, I was young and inexperienced and therefore we got the best people in the world to join us, work with us and advise us. We learned very quickly the difference between we Americans, who prefer to contain and collect spilt oil, and the British who preferred the use of dispersants to try to make it disappear in the ocean.
We based our system on the US Coast Guard barriers, built by an old friend Eleanor Sweat that had proved very effective in containing oil spills.
We therefore formed the International Oil Spill Control Corporation (IOSCC) and started to design and market country-wide systems for the countries of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) that we put together with the world’s best expertise.
We worked with a number of OPEC countries but came closest to getting a full contract with Saudi Arabia. These systems were expensive – designed to cover both of their coasts and making sure their desalination plants producing their water would not be affected. For 10 stations on the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, with all the equipment and trained personnel, the cost was $450 million. The Saudis decided not to invest in their coastlines to protect them and several years later they paid $2 BILLION to clean up an oil spill in the Gulf. To us it was “Penny wise and pound foolish.”
We found that the essentials of a system that really work in oil spill control are the following:
1. Having the absolutely right equipment for the collection of oil that has been spilt
2. Having that equipment at stations strategically placed on the country’s coastlines
3. Having the right vessels to deliver that containment equipment to the site of the spill very fast
4. Having helicopters available when needed – We had them on the vessels
5. Having an entire team that is trained and experienced in oil spill control
6. Having the necessary infrastructure to call for back-up from around the world for specific spills
7. The in-country and worldwide logistics needed to fully support any operation that was required to fight the oil spills anywhere in or near the country
8. Devise a thorough training program for having the nationals of the country take over the whole operation after a period of time
The above is what is needed by any country that has a certain amount of oil being transported thru its waters. Otherwise it is like a small city of 50,000 NOT having a Fire Department. A fire once started could burn down the entire town.
It seems to me that is what is happening now in the Gulf of Mexico and on the coastline of the southern states of our country……all the way from Texas to Florida…..is a result of terrible oil company contingence oil spill control planning, the current US laws that limit oil company liability to $75 million per spill, seeming lack of “wartime-type” of speed, and the continuing oil coming from the holes 5,000 feet below the waves.
What we learned very specifically was that we had to get the right equipment with the right personnel to the spill in the fastest possible time – otherwise as they said in Apollo 13 – “Houston (in this case, all the Gulf states and the USA) you have a problem.”
That has been the tragic situation with this oil spill. There is no question about it, I said this just after the spill started – it is and will become the largest oil spill in history – more danger done to the coastlines of the Gulf states as well as the economy to the coastal regions of these five states.
Once the winds change, it will then come eastward and pollute the beaches of the west coast of Florida and the “loop current” could carry this oil spill right around Florida, through the Florida Keys and pollute the east coast of Florida as well. This would be a disaster to Florida’s largest industry – tourism. This industry earns hundreds of billions of dollars for the people and companies of Florida and millions of jobs in Florida are dependent on tourism. An eminent economist who is running for governor of Florida has predicted that the unemployment rate in Florida could climb from the current one million up to three or four million unemployed. The real estate just on the coastlands of Florida amounts to trillions of dollars. That real estate value could sink like a stone to the bottom of the Gulf.
Within the coming hours, I am driving to the Gulf area to Venice, LA to see what I can do to help with this huge and massive oil spill catastrophe. I will be having discussions with many people including possibly President Obama (if we can connect). We have a plan to cap the leaks and will be discussing it with, hopefully, the President and many others there in the Gulf as well as urging certain solutions that could be implemented right now. I want to put my experience at the disposal of my beloved country in these hours of real crisis. I am not descended from Thomas Jefferson just to pay lip-service to my country but to assist it in its current maximum hour of need.
I shall share with you my thoughts and conversations each day for the next 5 or 6 days. Do give me your feedback or questions, so that I might be able help you with this massive destruction of our waters and coastlines.
Dr. Thomas B. Manton, former President and CEO of the International Oil Spill Control Corporation, now living in Florida and wanting to save it from the oil spill.