So it stands to reason that if we can get that hair off our heads
and stuff it into nylons and ship it down to the Gulf, we can keep that
enormous oil slick from expanding and making its way around Florida,
through the Keys, and up into the Atlantic. Protecting the deltas and
bayous, that would take massive doses of Rogaine.
As far as I can tell, this clipping-for-conservation craze got
started by a crew at www.matteroftrust.org, a Web site that tries to
promote waste reduction and reuse of naturally occurring materials. The
idea sounds cute, I thought, but a spill of this magnitude really
should be left to the professionals.
British Petroleum (BP), the company doing the drilling, has been
having a little trouble with their Plan B ever since the spill opened
up a month ago. First there was the “containment dome,” an enormous
concrete condom they tried to place over the pipe. This 30-ton
apparatus was lowered a mile down into the Gulf, and was charged with
capturing the hydrocarbon ejaculate and siphoning it up to waiting
ships on the surface. Apparently, once it was in place, everything
froze up. Understandable.
Then there was talk of stuffing a bunch of debris down the pipe, and
setting off a mini-explosion, which they hoped would jam up the works.
Didn’t happen, which is probably a good thing. Now it seems they have
placed a Riser Insertion Tube Tool, a device that looks uncomfortably
similar to a catheter, into the pipe, and it appears that this is
diverting a portion of the oil from the water onto a ship.
This is risky engineering practiced under super-demanding
circumstances where the stakes could not be higher. I try to picture
what it must be like for the chief engineers at BP these days. I think
of them like the ground crew for Apollo 13, banging desks and barking
orders, scratching out sketches on memo pads, sending ideas down to the
simulators where fevered operators work them out. Smart people living
on coffee and adrenaline fighting to save the planet.
Turns out I had the wrong movie.
If you go to the BP Web site, and look around at the pages they have
dedicated to the oil spill, it seems more like a Woody Allen movie.
There’s plenty of information but very little direction. It’s like that
scene in most early Woody Allen movies in which he gets on the
psychiatrist’s couch, lays out the disaster he has made of his life,
and pleads with the shrink: “Doc, what do I do now?”
Amid all the pleasing graphics and the scary video of the oil leak itself, you can find a series of phone numbers to call:
If you are an oily bird, call the Wildlife Distress Hotline at (866)
557-1401. Got time to volunteer? Call (866) 448-5816. Got a boat? Oh
thank you, thank you. Please call us at (281) 366-5511. Down at the
bottom of the list, one of the largest oil companies in the world, the
ones who assured us they were so smart that there was virtually no risk
involved in ocean floor drilling, even has a number you can call to
give them your ideas for stopping the oil flow and restoring the Gulf.
It’s true. The website asks plaintively, “Do you have ideas to help
us?” If you do, you can call (281) 366-5511. It’s a bit of a gimmick,
because when you call get a lady in Texas who sends you to the Web
site, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com, and click around until you come
to the form that allows you to submit your idea.
“But I was already at the Web site,” I told Barbara from Texas. She
politely told me to go back. “Where does my suggestion go?” I asked.
“It goes to our group of engineers,” I was told. The concrete condom
massive catheter guys. Oh boy!
In the land of the free, and in its hour of greatest need, BP is
turning to none other than Kevin Costner. I kid you not. Costner, it
turns out, not only dances with wolves, but he works with oil companies
to protect natural habitats. In the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez
oil spill off the Alaskan coast, Costner found himself wondering why a
company as large as Exxon did not have a means to separate spilled oil
from ocean water.
It turned out that the federal government had a program to develop just such a machine, so the Bull Durham
star gave the feds $24 million (once the price of a million Manhattans)
for the patents, and he set out to build the machine, which he calls
Ocean Therapy. He wanted it to be ready for the next big spill. And, as
it turns out, James Earl Jones was right. He built it, the oil did
It is a welcome development in a crisis like this when on good days
they burn lots of crude oil off the surface of the sea, sending thick
black smoke up into the open air, which is enough to make you want to
pull your hair out.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.