Click here if you don’t see subscription options
The EditorsJune 21, 2010

Ian Guidry stopped shoveling the brown ooze off the beach at Grande Terre island on the Louisiana coast long enough to survey the dark line of oil marking high tide. He was happy to have this job, since the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig had shut down the local economy; but he was eager to do this work for more than just the money. “I want my children to be able to experience what I experienced,” he told America. He grew up near Grand Isle, a popular summer surf and sport-fishing resort. No sooner had Mr. Guidry shoveled some oil off the beach than the surf rolled in with more. Does he think this apparently futile effort will achieve his goal? Mr. Guidry turned away a second to regard the beach. “I don’t think it will ever be the same again,” he said.

Dead pelicans and porpoises have already washed ashore not far from the site of Mr. Guidry’s labors; oil-covered survivors were being rushed to treatment. The oil’s rainbow sheen covers the Gulf waters, and for those who watch the brown blotches of oil rolling and turning in the current like drifting autumn leaves, it is hard not to pause a moment to grieve for the crime being commited against God’s creation. “What have we done,” a reporter at the site wondered aloud in a half-joking, half broken-hearted apology to circling pelicans.

British Petroleum will bear the heaviest responsibility for the unnatural disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. During the last three years, BP has committed 829 of the 851 willful health and safety violations among all the refiners cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After a series of deadly incidents and smaller ecological accidents, BP’s record of irresponsibility makes the case that Deepwater Horizon was simply an accident waiting to happen. The company placed profit over safety and in its arrogance chased oil into the depths without a clear, practiced and reliable recovery plan in the event of disaster. We are all living with the predictable outcome of its monumental carelessness. It would be a disservice, however, to the survivors of the 11 men who lost their lives on April 20 and to the suffering of the people, wildlife and ecology of the Gulf states if the shame and the culpability ended with BP.

Our government performed badly long before the blowout and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon when it abdicated its appropriate oversight role. Staff members of the Minerals Management Service were caught accepting gifts from oil industry executives, snorting cocaine and bed-hopping with industry employees. And government reliance on BP for expertise, which the company lacked, and rapid response, which it failed to achieve, indicates that the United States, in its eagerness to promote a dependable energy supply, has for decades ceded too much authority to powerful multinational corporations. The scale of this disaster might have been hard to predict, but the possibility of it certainly was not. Where were the back-ups to the back-up plan? Why, after years of deep-water oil exploration, should this one event prove so confounding? More to the point, if the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster truly exceeds the capacity of all industry and federal agencies to respond, then why is this method of resource extraction allowed in the first place?

The American public also bears responsibility as a consumer society living beyond its means. We have been in denial about our appetites, unwilling to make the sacrifices required by a real world of diminishing fossil fuel reserves and content to divert risk elsewhere. Americans say they want small government and limited regulatory intervention; then they express surprise when government cannot respond to big crises or has not done a better job preventing them. We disparage civil service employees and skimp on their salaries, then complain about Washington’s “revolving door” when regulators retire to become lobbyists or industry experts. And while many Americans support alternative energy, most resist an extra tax at the pump that could propel its development. We cannot have it both ways.

We could start to change our ways by redoubling conservation efforts. We could turn our backs on “cap and trade” for the boondoggle it is and embrace the more effective carbon tax instead. It would not require much to put off dangerous proposals for Arctic exploration indefinitely. The deep ocean is not merely a difficult site from which to extract resources; it is part of a beautiful, breathtaking gift for all generations to share, preserve and pass on. We have failed in our responsibility as its stewards. An accounting wizard may someday tally up the cost of this oil spill and the cleanup to taxpayers, the fishing and tourist industries and the unfortunate residents of the Gulf states and deliver a comprehensive bill to BP executives. But no human can calculate the cost of the disaster to the marshes and the ocean and the wildlife, to God’s good creation. God may forgive us; our grandchildren may not be so merciful.

p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

Read this article in Spanish. Translation courtesy Mirada Global.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Daniel Misleh
13 years 10 months ago
It is refreshing to hear the word "sacrifice" being used in this context.  The editors have it right: we can't have it both ways.  We can't continue to consume massive amounts of fossil fuels in support of our economy AND protect the planet.  Sacrifice, in the form of higher prices at the pump and from utility companies as well as adjusting the way we live-warmer homes in the summer and cooler in the winter, more public transportation, walking and biking, etc.-must be part of the mix.  But sacrifice also leads to grace and grace to hope: we can be more hopeful about the future we live to our grandchildren, make more space for enjoying each other's company instead of the relentless pursuit of more stuff, and be more in touch with the great gift of Creation by slowing down and enjoying the place where we're planted.
Catholics can take a step by taking the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor.  Go to catholicclimatecovent.org to learn more.
Mike Evans
13 years 10 months ago
It is wrong to say we can't have it both ways. We can be responsible both as citizens, investors, oil workers, regulators and consumers. To present this tragic problem as the particular fault of any one company, regulator, government or consumer group simply plays the blame game to no good effect. We all are culpable, we all are negligent, we all are ultimately ignorant of the dimensions of the risks we undertake. But right now, widows and orphans will suffer from the devaluation of BP stock, coastlines and water industries from the effects of the pollution, and consumers and taxpayers at many levels for the economic losses. Still, there is no magic bullet which will resolve the problems. Somehow we must cut through the media rhetoric and political name-calling to work together to clean up this mess and make amends. Then we can address the issues of appropriate and practical regulations. There simply are no simple answers.
Samra Bufkins
13 years 10 months ago
Wow-this is by far the best commentary I've read on the oil spill. I lived on the Texas coast for 20 years, working as a volunteer and professional with several coastal conservation organizations-I'm still on the board of one such group. I've lost count of how many acres of salt marsh I helped restore, one Spartina plant at a time.  Working that closely in the marsh allows you to see just how many tiny life forms-at the bottom of the food web-depend on these vital nurseries for survival. 
The value of our coastal wetlands is incalculable, and we will never fully know the total loss from this disaster in terms of economic loss or ecological damage.  We know more about outer space than we know about the oceans.   We can point the finger at BP, their partners, Transocean and Halliburton, but our insatiable desire for petroleum products places the blame squarely on us. The pathetic images of suffering birds should be on everyone's mind the next time we fill up at a gas pump. 
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 10 months ago
And you know what?  If and when we finally get it that we ALL (not just the leadership, not just BP) are responsbile for this mess, we just might change!  The earth will heal and we will become healthier physically and spiritually.
A plume of news stories has started to seep into the media, telling us that we can't make a difference. They say: you can't avoid oil and petrochemicals. You can't fight BP at the pump. Nonsense.

It's easy to conserve and don't let the oil industry tell you otherwise. Replace the "fast-food milkshake ... with a petrochemical-based thickener" with one made from real local milk and ice cream. Cook dried beans at home instead of driving out to McBurger for beef. Eat local produce. Drink tap water, not bottled water. Carpool. Turn off your motor when your car isn't moving. Quit buying things you don't need. Bring cloth grocery bags. Borrow or buy used when you can. Oil is valuable and finite, so save it for products we really need, like medicine and even shoes.

Oil-covered beaches and birds are inconvenient. Poisoned shrimp and oysters are inconvenient. Global warming is very inconvenient. Make a change to today to reduce the demand for oil. You can make a difference.
This just may be the time for the tide to turn.
Ted McGoron
13 years 10 months ago
I disagree with the statement, "We disparage civil service employees and skimp on their salaries." I think we have too many people working for the government and they make more money than most people emplyed in the private sector. But the get it anyway. And the thing I find most reprehensible is that they make all that money and don't do the job. Of course what I am writing about is the failure of those who were supposed to regulate BP and the others involved with oil drilling. It's what they get paid to do. That sort of thing did not begin with the current administration but it certainly continues from the old one without any visible seam.
13 years 10 months ago
A remnant ecological substance called "Oil" millions of years in the making now "Adrift in the Gulf" - "Mother Nature" and "Brother Earth" at war with each other, as in domestic abuse, frightfully engaged in distructive confrontation with a newer ecology millions of years younger -this agony caused by humanity's stiffing of the Creator's command, "Subdue the Earth!" Hurry! Hurry! Let's get to "work as if everything depended on us, while praying as if everything depended on God," loosely quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola. Oh "Sister Water" of the Gulf, be cleansed! All creatures big and small freeded of toxic sludge, Praise the Lord! Men and women whatever your needs recover your livelihood and prosper!
13 years 10 months ago
The pattern of weak legislation, lax regulation and timid enforcement is typical of the United States government during the last 30 years.  We saw the same deficiencies in risk assessment, legislation, regulation, and planning in the recent financial debacle and in the current “corrective” financial legislation being negotiated in the Congress. As Congress continues to formulate energy policy, the fossil fuel industry and the money interests are doing their utmost to prevent any meaningful legislation that might mitigate the risks of climate change.
One can only wonder whether America has lost ability to govern and solve problems.  Will the next preventable disaster be another oil spill, a nuclear accident, financial failure or global warming?  Buy a derivative, and place your bet!
William Atkinson
13 years 10 months ago
Our government, Now 21 years removed from 1989 Exxon Valdese oil spill, has no concept of what is happening in the Gulf.   I went to Alaska in 1989, worked helping logistics om that massive spill.   Even today, Americas editors have no concept of what crude oil mixed with environment is like (hey guys, get some, handle it, taste and smell it, rub and some on yourself)  then write about it.   Obama blames BP, says BP will take care of it.  Bull Crap, government needs to mobilize thousands and thousands and act like its National Defense at stake,  talk to those thousands that headed up and worked Alaska then do your home work.   Go to Alaska, interview natives Exxon promised billions, then said see you in Court - Judges in lower 48 said it can't be all that bad and then forgave Exxon leaving 1000's of villagers with nothing:  there still cleaning up crude today.     Before you write - see it for your self.
Christopher Downey
13 years 10 months ago
Gee, how convenient it is to omit the fact that if it wasn't for draconian environmental regulations, BP could have drilled at a manageable depth and quickly contained the spill. I'm very disappointed that the author of this article seems to value ideology over honest analysis.
William Atkinson
13 years 10 months ago
Just a Added Note:  the us Army Corps of Engineers has 21 years with 1000 of experienced workers on Exxon Valdese cleanup, two hugh skimmer ship lying idle in Portland, Or and Norfork, Va - and Where are they - at home watching and waiting, and crying - most have written congress and executives to no avail.   Its like government sees BP as its savior.   Ignorance is bliss.
Greta Green
13 years 10 months ago
Surprise, the federal government screws up again.  Cannot think of anything they do well.  In the meantime they continue to grow and expand into every area of our lives.  Sooner or later people are going to understand if they want an effective federal government, they need to get a much smaller and more focused federal government.  for some reason, people seem to think you can have a massive federal government that can actually work.  The have screwed up everything they touch and their solution is always growth, more power, more regulations, and more taxes.
Instead, we have elected a group that knows nothing but more of all of the above and we will pay the price for generations. 

The latest from america

U.S. Catholics are more polarized than ever in how they view Pope Francis, even though majorities on both ends of the political spectrum have a positive view of the pope, according to a new survey.
In this special round table episode of “Inside the Vatican,” America Editor-in-Chief Father Sam Sawyer and the Executive Director of Outreach, America’s LGBT Catholic resource, Michael O’Loughlin, join host Colleen Dulle for a discussion on the document “Dignitas Infinita” and the pastoral
Inside the VaticanApril 12, 2024
Miles Teller stars in a scene from the movie "Whiplash." (CNS photo/courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Played by Miles Teller, Andrew falls prey to an obsession so powerful that it robs us of the clarity or freedom to make good choices.
John DoughertyApril 12, 2024
In one way or another, these collections bear the traces of the divine, of the needful Christ.
Delaney CoyneApril 12, 2024