Feature

The cap is on, but oil continues to flow

In spite of a containment cap on the ruptured undersea well in the Gulf of Mexico, experts say that at least 10,000 barrels are still pouring out.

What happened
BP said this week it was capturing about 15,000 barrels of oil a day through a “top hat” containment cap on the ruptured undersea well in the Gulf of Mexico, but several experts said new undersea images suggest that at least 10,000 barrels are still pouring out and adding to a growing environmental catastrophe. The official government flow rate from the broken well is from 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, and BP CEO Tony Hayward said a pipe attached to the new cap was capturing “the majority” of the oil and sending it to a collection ship on the surface. But University of California scientist Ira Leifer, working for the government’s panel of experts, said the engineering operation to cut pipes and install the cap had led to a “freely flowing pipe” that was now releasing up to 100,000 barrels a day. “It’s apparent that BP is playing games with us,” Leifer said.

BP said it was moving new ships into place to capture more of the oil by next week, but federal officials warned that the well would continue to spew until relief wells are completed in August. This week, oil began reaching the shoreline and beaches in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama, and scientists confirmed several vast, underwater “plumes” of dissolved oil in the Gulf. Responding to rising criticism of the administration’s handling of the spill, a clearly defensive President Obama scheduled a new, lengthy visit for the Gulf region and said he was consulting with experts on the scene to determine “whose ass to kick.”

What the editorials said
Who knows what’s going on? said The New York Times. All the information we have about the scale of this disaster and the efforts to fix it is coming from BP, a source that has demonstrated its “shaky credibility” time and again. And since BP has to pay up to $3,000 for each barrel of oil spilled, it has an obvious incentive to minimize the extent of the damage. It’s time for Obama to swing that “presidential boot” into action.

The last thing the Gulf region needs is more of Obama’s feigned anger, said The Wall Street Journal. Last month, the panicked White House shut down all deep-water drilling projects in the Gulf, and slapped a six-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling permits. This draconian overreaction—akin to grounding the nation’s fleet of planes after a single crash—now endangers 200,000 jobs and millions of dollars in paychecks and taxes for a region that desperately needs them. Punishing the entire industry “is a political exercise designed to mollify an anti-oil Left.”

What the columnists said
Pundits and the public are demanding that Obama display some visible anger at BP, said John Blake in CNN.com. Getting mad, though, is against Obama’s nature. He learned growing up, and climbing the ladder in academia and in politics, that “many white Americans don’t like angry black men.” So he trained himself to display a cool equanimity in all situations—even this one.

It’s not his lack of anger that’s the problem, said Frank Rich in The New York Times. As a brainy former academic who owes his success to the American meritocracy, Obama has “an inherent deference to the smartest guys” in the room, whether they work for him, run Wall Street, or run BP. He therefore failed to challenge BP’s version of events from the start, even as Hayward “consistently understated the spill’s severity, overestimated the progress of the repair operation, and low-balled the environmental damage.”

Told you so, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. We conservatives spent the 2008 election season trying to alert America that it was about to elect a man whose only executive experience was running the Harvard Law Review. Sure enough, when the spill occurred, it took more than a week for the administration to classify it in the highest category of threat, and despite desperate pleas from governors, it still hasn’t built sand barriers to protect fragile wetlands. Sure, Obama means well, “but with oil gushing into the Gulf, that’s not good enough.”

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