We have been following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill in a series of posts including this one last night, in which I linked to a story in the Mobile, Alabama Press-Register. The story deserves much more attention, as it contains by far the most concrete criticism of the Obama administration’s response to the disaster that has yet emerged:
If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.
The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.
The “In-Situ Burn” plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.
But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.
When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.
At federal officials’ behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.
So: if this account is correct, federal agencies planned to respond to a major spill in the Gulf by burning off the oil with fire booms, but after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, they discovered that they didn’t have any. (One may subsequently have been found in storage.) This criticism is seconded by a highly credible source, former NOAA oil spill coordinator Ron Gouguet, who helped write the 1994 plan:
[F]ormer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet — who helped craft the 1994 plan — told the Press-Register that officials had pre-approval for burning. “The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away.”
Gouguet speculated that burning could have captured 95 percent of the oil as it spilled from the well.
The first test burn using a fire boom did not occur until April 28, eight days after the oil rig exploded. By that time, an enormous amount of oil had been spilled and was making its way toward land.
Meanwhile, news from the Gulf is mixed: the weather has changed and the oil slick is being pushed away from the Gulf coast. That’s good, except that fears are increasing that it could circulate around the Gulf and make its way across the Florida Keys and potentially up the Atlantic coast.
PAUL adds: The Mobile newspaper story rings true. It isn’t really an indictment of the Obama administration — presumably the government didn’t have fire booms on hand during the Bush administration either — it’s an indictment of the federal government. Obama stands indicted for wanting massively to increase the scope and power of the federal government.