pop goes the world: bp oil spill and plan b

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 17 June 2010, Thursday

British Petroleum and ‘Plan B’

With Internet use being fairly widespread in the Philippines, especially in urban areas, it seems odd that many topics gaining viral status online aren’t even being discussed in the country.

True, we have our own problems to think about, yet with the world shrinking daily thanks to the Internet, the concerns of other countries will somehow affect us too, eventually if not immediately.

Take the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The ill-fated explosion of British Petroleum’s off-shore rig Deepwater Horizon resulted in the deaths of 11 people and an environmental disaster of cataclysmic proportions. The latest scientific data estimates that the burst underwater pipe is leaking up to 2.5 million gallons of crude oil daily.

Why ‘cataclysmic’? Because the initial United States federal reports put the daily leakage at only 42,000 gallons. The truth, while it sets you free, is also horrifying.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion. Photo here.

Faced with a problem of massive impact, BP and other independent petroleum experts are unable to come up with a workable solution. While they are in their labs trying to figure out a fix, wildlife and environmental habitats are dying along the Louisiana coastline.

Heart-rending photographs are all over the Internet of pelicans and other water birds coated with oil, dragging their feathers along the shore; dolphins and fishes washed up dead on the beaches; reeds and white sand sullied with tar balls. Fishermen and others who derive their livelihood from the sea cannot work, with no certainty of when they can resume their normal lives.

A monster from Hell? Believe it or not, this used to be a pelican. An oil-slicked bird on the beach at Grand Terre Island, Louisiana. This now-iconic photo was taken by Charles Riedel/AP.

Investigations into BP’s conduct show that BP cut corners on safety. A fail-safe that would have cost an additional $10 million was ditched for one that was less costly – and much less effective. In saving $10 million, BP cost themselves – and the planet – billions in untold damage.

It also appears that the US government was remiss in its regulations of BP’s activities. Over the past three years, BP had committed over 700 safety violations. In contrast, other companies engaged in similar activities each logged less than ten over the same period.

How is this relevant to the Philippines? Apart from the possibility that those gooey tar balls could wash up on Boracay and Amanpulo’s shores one day (has anyone charted the sea currents flowing this way?), there are companies that have struck oil in Philippine waters. Have they enough safety measures in place to prevent a similar disaster? Do they have Plans A, B, and C in case one does occur?

Amanpulo resort in Palawan. Photo by gypsysoul73. Imagine a film of filthy crude on that shimmering turquoise water, and crap-like tar balls marring that stretch of pristine white stand. Now, imagine yourself swimming in oil and your toes mired with tar. Not a good image, is it?

MST’s Alena Mae Flores reported last June 3 that ExxonMobil had encouraging results from two test wells (Dabakan-1 and Banduria-1) this year and are drilling a third in the Sulu Sea.

In a June 9 story, Flores wrote that Nido Petroleum Ltd.’s Tindalo-1 in Palawan is flowing “at the rate of 18,689 barrels a day, surpassing pre-test expectations” of 7,000 to 15,000 barrels daily. Money earned from this well, said Nido president Emmanuel de Dios, would be used over the next couple of years to drill in 20 other areas in Palawan that have a “prospect of (producing) 200 million barrels.”

It’s good news that we will be reducing our dependence on imported oil somewhat, yet with the incredible havoc created by the BP oil spill still unresolved, warning bells should be going off right about now. To be fair, ExxonMobil is said to have committed only one violation in the US in the past three years, an admirable operations record. Therefore constant vigilance is all the more necessary.

What are the regulations set by the Department of Energy with regard to rig operations and crew safety? Are current laws strong enough to mandate that oil exploration companies install the maximum fail-safe measures, no matter the price? In short, there should be no BP-like wrong-headed cost-cutting for profit. In case of a spill, do they have a plan to fix it? Just asking – because someone has to.

The use of fossil fuels has been scientifically shown to cause air pollution and is a contributing factor to the climate change phenomenon. Moreover, oil supplies are running out.

It is time to install ‘green’ energy sources that are sustainable and non-polluting. Rather than diving for more oil, why don’t we go with wind farms, like those in the Ilocos? And improve solar, hydropower, and geothermal strategies? The Philippines has some of the best engineers in the world, with access to global expertise. Surely between them, they can come up with something that works?

People are groaning over the higher cost of electricity – witness this summer’s outcry over Meralco’s increase in power rates. An American expat blogged that he was paying the equivalent of $150 for his Meralco bill despite hewing to energy-conservation measures such as reducing aircon use and so on. He used to pay the same sum when he was living in the US – the difference being that he had more than one aircon and many other appliances going 24/7. In other words, the same cost for more usage.

Yet we can have an enhanced standard of living, with cheaper power costs at lesser risk to the environment – if government creates policies that look after the national interest and strictly enforces them.

Our cultural mindset prescribes tiis – tightening our belts and making do. Also prevalent is the awe and respect given to experts and those in authority – “Mas nakakaalam sila” (They know better than we do). Worse is the thinking, “Hindi ko problema ‘yan – problema nila ‘yan,” (It’s not our problem, it’s theirs) and “Sa ibang bansa naman ‘yan, ‘di dito” (That’s happening in other countries, not here).

As citizens, we also have a role to play. No more tiis. No more bahala na sila, or bahala na si Batman. We are our own superheroes. It’s up to us to find out what’s going on around the planet, determine possible repercussions and benefits, and find the best solutions and systems.

We need a Plan B – because we want lower power bills to enjoy the benefits of technology available to us, because we don’t want to step on tar balls on our beaches nor see our butanding slicked with filthy oil, and because we want to have a  beautiful Philippines to live in and pass on to our descendants. ***

A butanding. “Young Whale Shark”, photo by canomike of a “15-foot baby.” Taken at Sunok, Southern Leyte. Picture this glorious creature looking like the Cajun pelican in the picture above. We mustn’t let it happen.

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5 Comments on pop goes the world: bp oil spill and plan b

  1. pinoytransplant
    17 June 2010 at 7:50 pm (3675 days ago)

    Very up to date topic. Here in the US, all I hear and read is about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even the President’s nationwide address 2 nights ago was regarding the oil spill and its catastrophic effects not just on livelihood but to the environment. Philippines may be thousands of miles away, but we will be all affected sooner or later. I agree, no more “bahala na si Batman……… dahil ako (tayo) si Superman”.

  2. TAO
    17 June 2010 at 11:24 pm (3675 days ago)

    Producing energy for the industrialized, high power consuming nations is a tricky business. I think wind or tidal farms are great ideas but the costs of implementing them and maintaining them seem to have kept those as niche players. The sad thing is that the more electricity costs and the harder hit consumers are the more attractive building alternative energy sources will be. The profit will be there only then. The argument is that government should step in but consumers still pay for those efforts through taxes. When it comes to having to “pay up” most people aren’t so happy.

    We’ll not be seeing petrochemicals go anywhere soon. Remember that in the U.S. we get the majority of our electricity is from coal and it’s not a clean energy (even if it can’t spill) so there’s a dirty secret there. While I’m for research and development of other alternative power sources I’d like to see better regulation and oversight of where we get our power right now. The spill is the result of slipshod commercial and governmental efforts.

    While looking at the power statistics for the U.S. I was surprised to see that natural gas is in the top 3 sources. Still, while clean it can’t be replenished.

  3. JennyO
    21 June 2010 at 3:32 am (3671 days ago)

    Amer, ang mahirap sa Pinoy, we tend to be so insular and think that what happens elsewhere on the globe will not affect us – until the effects hit.

    TAO, it’s true that at the moment it’s cheaper and easier to use coal, oil, and natgas for energy. Still, research and development into green power sources are ongoing and hopefully soon we’ll see viable cost-effective alternatives. And you’re right, the first step here is to make sure that what’s being done is under strict regulation and that none of the resources produced are wasted.

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