August 25, 2011

Arctic Rape

We just don't learn.

My cynicism with the U.S.' Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management and Regulatory Enforcement (BOEMRE) was validated last week when Shell Offshore- owned by Royal Dutch Shell- was granted 'conditional approval' to drill in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea next year. Another brick in the wall of Arctic devastation has been laid; humanity will pay much more than the $3.5 billion Shell paid for those Arctic leases by the time this environmental rape is done with.

Ironically, Royal Dutch Shell is fighting to control a "substantial" spill off a ruptured pipeline in the Gannet field in North Sea- the worst since 2000- as I write this. The British The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) puts the figures at " several hundred tonnes," but we know, after the Deep Water Horizon explosion, that announced figures mean very little and are often intended to obfuscate, not clarify. Interestingly, Shell says- with suspicious accuracy- that only 216 tonnes of oil has been spilled so far. These numbers- and the story- is being modified almost daily, so do not hold me to them.

The Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster will look- in retrospect- like a drop of oil in the ocean compared to an Arctic incident of even a fraction of similar magnitude. Drilling hundreds of miles away from  the nearest Coast Guard base, with ice and inclement weather to boot, Shell's expansive 'three tier' contingency plans in the frigid waters of the Arctic -that it says are sufficient to contain a major spill- will obviously be as worthless as junk bonds. For a start, there is no proven technology for cleaning up oil in icy water; skimming boats do not work. If a blowout happens when ice is freezing over, say some scientists, the earliest that relief wells can be drilled may be next summer, which means months of oil leaking into pristine waters unchecked. 

Listen to retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who led the US response to the Gulf spill, saying earlier this year that the US was ill-equipped to deal with a major oil disaster in Alaska, given harsh weather, little infrastructure and unpredictable ice. Environmentalists have used words like 'inexcusable' and phrases like "disaster waiting to happen" and "dangerous and disappointing" after the BOEMRE clearance given to Shell was announced.  Chuck Clusen, director of Alaska projects for the Natural Resources Defence Council, says the approval is "either the height of irresponsibility or the height of ignorance — but either way it should be stopped.”

Shell's contingency plans for Arctic drilling- based on which I presume the approvals have been granted, make the delusional claim that the company will recover 90 percent of any oil that will spill after a Horizon type catastrophe. Ridiculous, given that only five percent (yes, five) of oil could be recovered in the Gulf after the Horizon blowout, and the waters there were temperate and infrastructure available much closer. Shell's delusional plans make no allowances for the fact that the disaster site may be inaccessible for weeks, if an incident happens at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It appears that the ban on drilling that the Obama administration announced in the aftermath of the Horizon catastrophe was obviously temporary eyewash; now that public outrage has subsided, the only game in town-crony capitalism-can safely resume its march again.  

But why blame only the US or single out just Shell? The fact is that the oligarchs- often huge multinational companies- rule the world today with their henchmen government-accomplices across the world. From Africa to Russia to the US to India, mineral resources are plundered and looted with scant regard for the environment or the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. These companies co-opt politicians and administrations in much the same way as the old European colonial East India Companies did, giving each collaborator a personal stake in the loot-Directorships of companies post retirement included.

Today's East India Companies are less honest about their rape and plunder, though. They cloak their ravenous greed with meaningless environmental assessment and contingency plans made for hypocritical approval processes, but their intention is rape.  The only other difference between the old colonialists and the new ones is that the new ones have hundreds of employees and consultants- and entire puppet governments- on hand to manage events when the inevitable disaster occurs. As in the Deep Water Horizon case, when even journalists were barred by the Obama government from taking photographs of tarred beaches and dying marine life . These oligarchs know fully well that a disaster is a statistical probability- even certainty- and that the fallout will not be containable when it occurs. Therefore, they decide that they will manage the outrage and keep the natives from getting too restless instead, when disaster does strike. Their strategy, in short, is a) rape b) manage outrage. They have no strategy for the protection of the environment.

It helps to do all this when the natives themselves are addicted to oil.

The impending destruction of the Arctic is just another step on a long road to hell. The devastation of the pristine and frigid end of the earth may well turn out- as we all know- to be the last straw that makes the planet itself become hostile to us. The new colonialists are trying to convince us that the Arctic is the last frontier, but that is a lie. It is actually the last bastion. 

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