Republicans expecting to run against an incompetent, oil-begrimed Obama administration this fall had better think twice. After two weeks of intensive reporting on some of the bizarre myths about the spill for an upcoming National Review article, I have come to realize that the Deepwater Horizon crisis, to little fanfare in these August doldrums, has ended.
The well no longer gushes: It is capped, top-killed, and cemented, and within a few weeks it will be finished off with the coup de grace of bottom kill, at which point we can expect the administration to declare victory. At least three-quarters of the leaked oil is already gone. While some has been burned or captured, most — per the predictions of former BP CEO Tony Hayward — has been devoured and rendered harmless by the Gulf’s uniquely ravenous bacterial ecosystem, which has been digesting natural oil seeps for millennia. This isn’t administration spin; it’s reality.
Also in the last two weeks, most of the wildest stories have been laid to rest, although some scientists (and the media outlets that quote them) seem reluctant admit it. NR will be looking at the more embarrassing details, but here’s the bottom line: NOAA retracted the outlandish computer model that showed the spill covering thousands of square miles from the Gulf to the east coast as far north as New England.
The spill science team has released a devastating (at least to BP) estimate of the flow rate of the well (since BP can be fined per gallon of oil spilled). It comes in on the high side of expectations, and should end speculation that the administration is somehow hiding the true flow rate to protect BP. The report also strengthens the potential cases of private litigants.
The EPA has weighed in with its definitive studies of Corexit (the chemical dispersant used to break up the spill), which found, contrary to numerous green critics, that the material is about as safe as it could be in the context of its use.
Careful studies have revealed that the media-beloved “giant underwater oil plumes” have disappeared or maybe never existed in the first place. You can also forget about methane tsunamis, an “extinction-level event,” killer oil-laced hurricanes, and vast governmental conspiracies.
Meanwhile, parts of the Gulf have reopened for fishing and shrimping, and the EPA is expediting testing of the rest of it. The administration has even indicated that it’s considering an early end to its drilling moratorium.
Who gets the credit? The capping and top kill — in little more than 100 days — was an engineering tour de force by BP, its subcontractors, and thousands of individuals in the petroleum industry, one that will be studied and most likely incorporated into safety planning in the future. On the government side, we can look to management by Adm. Thad Allen, brought in from outside the administration’s usual Chicago/academic clique. He knocked heads and pulled together on short notice an effective cross-agency team that may be unique in the history of bloated, post–New Deal government.
There’s still oil to be skimmed, marshland to be cleaned, science to be done on the long-term effects of the oil and dispersants. Six hundred miles of coastline — Louisiana’s in particular — have been hard hit and need help. There may yet be negative impacts on mammal, fish, and shellfish reproduction. But we have, at this point, a pretty good sense that things are going to get better rather than worse.