The well in the Gulf of Mexico that spewed oil all summer is now permanently sealed. We're looking back at what we can learn from the event.
And we heard from you. Listeners and Facebook fans send in questions and we got answers from Robert Hernan, author of "This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the Fifteen Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World," who also joined us on the air.
I want to know why news organizations won't say the name HALLIBURTON when they talk about the cementing and sealing of the well. It seems Halliburton can only be mentioned in a negative report.
—Richard H. King (via Facebook)
ROBERT HERNAN: Good question. BP is the easy target because they are the entity primarily liable for the damages and they have a lot of money. But more analysis and investigation of Halliburton is needed to determine their role, if any, in causing the explosion and subsequent spill. It would also be interesting to explore the relationship between former VP Dick Cheney and the company he used to run, Halliburton, as it was the Bush-Cheney administration that eviscerated the federal agency responsible for overseeing deep-sea oil drilling. For more on Cheney and Halliburton, see here.
Do we eat any grease when we cook these fish?
—Gw Wolfe (via Facebook)
I hope not, unless you’re deep-fat-frying the fish on purpose. The federal government is responsible for advising people of what fish and/or what fishing grounds are safe. While initially 37 percent of the Gulf was closed to fishing in federal waters, the government has re-opened about half of that area. See press conference with federal officials on September 14, 2010.
Why did they let it go on for so long? How long will it take to clean it up & put the Gulf oilspill
—VertigoDragon (via Twitter)
ROBERT HERNAN: It is frustrating to witness all the uncertainty surrounding the clean up. At first nobody really knew how to stop such a massive leak in an exploration well almost 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf and it took five months to finally close the well. Of course, the question remains, why was BP (and other oil companies) allowed to drill in the deep sea without knowing how to fix a leak. As for how long it will take to clean up the oil spill, that depends on how extensive and how damaging the subsurface contamination is and how long it continues to affect the Gulf ecosystem. It will likely be a number of years if not decades.
Who is going to jail for sequestering the victims in the immediate aftermath of the blowout instead of letting them speak to family and get med care?
—Miguel, Hialeah, Fla. (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: That was a disturbing piece of news — that the victims seemed to be kept away from their families. If BP was responsible and did it to try to manage the press coverage, that fact might be considered in any damage claims against BP by the victims.
Does the spill mean contamination with our water supply or for residents that reside alongside that part of the region?
—Alpharetta, GA (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: It is possible for oil to enter rivers, including the Mississippi River, and streams that serve as sources for drinking water for local communities, but I have not seen any reports that there has been such contamination. I believe New Orleans installed booms in front of their water intake stations along the Mississippi as a precaution. You should contact your local water supply company and local health department to make sure there has been no contamination of your water supply.
Where were the other big oil companies like Mobil/Exxon and Petrobras during the spill? Shouldn't the oil companies have a mutual aid program like fire dept?
—Providence, RI (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: BP was assisted in its attempts to stop the oil gusher by staff from other oil companies as they all had a vested interest in getting the leak stopped before everybody began seriously questioning all deep-sea oil drilling in the Gulf, but there was no organized, joint recovery effort in place. In fact a number of the oil companies simply copied each other’s plans for risk and recovery efforts when submitting applications to the government for deep-sea drilling. Your suggestion of a mutual aid program is excellent, as long as the oil companies are watched carefully by a well-resourced and aggressive governmental agency. See further comments on this issue below.
Shouldn't we be spending more money on alternative energy research instead of looking for more and more dangerous ways to extract fossil fuels?
—Jeff in Detroit (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: ABSOLUTELY, Jeff. In fact, even a conservative institution like Lloyd’s Insurance group recently published a report on how oil companies are now going after hard-to-get oil that creates environmental risks and businesses need to begin preparing for the end of reliance on oil and looking carefully at alternative energy sources, like wind and solar. Read a summary/analysis of the Lloyd’s report.
One of the reasons we do not have the support needed to develop alternative energy sources is because the oil, coal and gas industries spend enormous amounts of money lobbying Congress to block such efforts.
Why aren't the crooks who caused it in jail awaiting trial?
—New York, NY (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: The U.S. Attorney General, and presumably local authorities, are investigating any possible criminal violations by people responsible for the oil spill. We still don’t know exactly what and who caused the spill and whether it was negligence or criminal in nature.
What will the final corrective actions be to ensure that this never happens again? And are they adequate or tempered by industry pressure?
—MA (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: We need to await the results of the president’s commission's findings in January 2011 on what caused the disaster and how others can be avoided. The oil industry will try to influence the commission’s report and will resist any efforts to increase regulation and supervision of the deep-sea drilling. So we need a strong citizen activism to counter the oil companies pressure and to make sure the public interest are protected.
Is it true that the dispersant broke down the oil so it sank to the ocean floor, and is that worse than just skimming it off the top?
—Duncangela, Detroit, MI (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: The large volume of dispersants did keep a lot of oil from the shore but the dispersants have toxic properties and they simply moved much of the oil to the water column and Gulf floor instead of the shore. Out of sight is not, in this case, out of mind because we now have to struggle with the nature and extent of that subsurface contamination and what to do about it.
Why are we still drilling bin the oceans?
—Winchester, MA (via text)
ROBERT HERNAN: It was suggested during the program by one guest that the oil companies should get together and develop common containment strategies. But the oil companies cannot be allowed to police themselves in this effort. We need a serious federal agency with the resources, expertise and aggressive attitude to oversee the fossil fuel industry, including more extensive regulation of deep-sea drilling. Then we need citizen activism to watch over the agency overseers to make sure they do their job and protect public interests not private interests. Allowing the oil industry to monitor itself is what got us into this mess in the first place.