Why aren’t we there yet?

It is surreal to watch the news on a nightly basis and see the oil in the gulf of Mexico make its unstoppable way to shore. Surreal because it’s all too familiar a sight.

I remember walking on Santa Monica beach in 1969 and being introduced to the concepts of both offshore oil drilling and offshore oil spills (Union Oil’s Platform A) by stepping on a glob of crude mixed with sand. In the following days I watched the clean up on the television and it seems I have been watching the same process play out ever since! (Argo Merchant in 1976, Ixtoc1 1979, Exxon Valdez 1989 etc.). The same booms, the same oil covered birds the same skimmers and the same wild, desperately vacant looks on the faces of the oil executives and attendant government officials.
While the oil spill plays out in the news it is also important to notice the disappearance of the Haitian earthquake from the front page, as well as the quakes in Chile and China.

My interest in these matters is not focused on the disasters but rather the response (or lack there of) that we have generated.

In the period since the Santa Barbara spill we have put people on the moon, robots on Mars, mapped DNA and transplanted human faces but our response to disasters has not changed in any appreciable manner. More importantly our responses are the same in spite of available technologies. It is as if those responsible don’t read popular mechanics or watch the Discovery Chanel!

For example: In response to the Exxon Valdez actor Kevin Costner spent millions to develop a ship mounted water oil separator. The technology was never picked up by people who clean things up but it apparently worked well enough to be used to extract oil by producers. Have we seen any of these in use? No, Kevin lost 20 million dollars.

Universal Remediation has developed Petroleum Remediation Product (PRP) which can be used for various oil, fuel and other liquid petroleum hydrocarbon cleanup applications such as fuel or oil spilled on land or ground, oil spills on shorelines, waterways or marinas, hydraulic fluid spilled in industrial plants. Micro beads made from bee’s wax using technology licensed from NASA capture and bind to oil where the naturally occurring bacteria eat all the oil, once applied to a spill it does not need to be removed as the product and the resulting byproducts are nontoxic. I made a call to them last week and was told that they had not shipped any special quantities to the gulf. They were recently contacted by “Government agencies”. I won’t hold my breath but I wish them luck.

In my last post I described a strategy for emergency housing in Haiti – since the earthquake and the writing I have not seen any evidence of this or any other similar response.  As a matter of fact many of the people who were camping in the area across from the capital have been moved to a new tent city miles out of town. Now, they are not only still in tents but are so far removed from the areas of commerce that they are unable to work or buy food! Good move, well thought out.