Marshall: An Environmental Atrocity

When the "Drill, Baby, Drill" crowd re-emerges to downplay the BP oil disaster (and you know they will), sportsmen have a handy quote to use in reply, provided by none other than BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles.

Shortly after the "top kill" failed to plug the river of oil his company had unleashed from a hole in the Gulf 5,000 feet below the surface, Suttles was asked if the next ideas would work. His reply:

"People want to know which technique is going to work, and I don't know. It hasn't been done at these depths and that's why we've had multiple options working parallel."

People call this the worst environmental disaster in the history of the nation. That misses the important point. This is more like an environmental atrocity, a shameless act of greed and hubris against not just the people of the Gulf, but the entire nation.

The reason is right there in Suttles' reply. Our government has allowed private companies to put national resources at lethal risk without requiring any proof they could stop disaster if it threatened.

To understand just how unconcerned for the habitat BP and federal and state governments were, one has only to look back at the comments during the permitting process in 2007.

The Minerals Management Service, the agency that is supposed to protect the public's interest, dismissed the chances of a catastrophic spill, and almost laughed at the ideas the environment could be seriously harmed if the worst happened. Blow-outs in deep water were "rare events of short duration," it reported, and "the infrequent subsurface blowout that may occur on the Gulf OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) would have a negligible effect on commercial fishing."

BP's experts claimed that even if a worst-case scenario of 162,000 barrels a day were escaping from a blow-out, it "has the capability to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge." The company later shrugged off even considering planning for such an event, claiming "further discussion of response to an oil spill resulting from the activities proposed in this plan is not required for this Exploration Plan."

Fast forward to April 2010 and the event that wouldn't happen. BP has said this blowout is only 5,000 barrels a day--that's about 157,000 barrels less than its worst-case scenario that it would have little trouble handling.

Except now Mr. Suttles "doesn't know" how to stop it.

Sportsmen should know this is the same reasoning that was used to open many Western fish and wildlife areas to development. And they should remember what Mr. Suttles now admits: He doesn't know.