Washington – Despite the pleas of some conservative politicians that parallels should not be drawn between the oil spreading over the Gulf of Mexico and the need to transition out of a reliance on fossil fuels, U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear Tuesday night that he sees the race against the spreading oil as inherently connected to the race against a changing climate.
“For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels…And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude,” he said.
“We cannot consign our children to this future,” Obama continued. “The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.”
Prior to the speech, a government panel reported that as much as 60,000 barrels, or 2.5 million gallons (9.5 million litres), of oil a day is gushing out of the compromised well of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig. This doubles their previous estimate – from just last Thursday – that said 25,000 to 30,000 gallons a day were leaking.
The difference can be chalked up to the fact that the previous estimate was for the amount of oil leaking prior to BP cutting the riser pipe leading from the well in order to attempt to fit a cap on the pipe. That action has temporarily increased the amount of oil flowing out, but with the intention that the cap will eventually reduce the amount of escaping oil.
For now, though, it is unclear just how much of a success the cap has been. BP’s eventual hope, according to plans the company announced earlier this week, is that the cap would help capture 2.2 million gallons of oil a day by the end of the month.
Obama addressed those plans after meeting with top BP officials at the White House Wednesday afternoon.
“Now, that’s not good enough. So we will continue to press BP and draw on our best minds and resources to capture the rest of the oil until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely,” he said.
That relief well is not expected to be finished until August. A 1979 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from an explosion at Pemex’s Ixtoc I offshore rig continued spewing crude for 10 months before a relief well was completed.
“Pemex tried exactly the same things that BP did. They tried a top kill, they tried jamming different things in there,” Thomas Shirley of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi said last week. “If you complicate that by (the depth of the Deepwater Horizon leak) it just makes things a lot more complicated.”
The Ixtoc leak was at 150 feet (46 metres) of water while Deepwater Horizon is at 5,000 feet (1,524 metres).
Clearly, then, Obama’s frustration is well-founded. But the main source of his frustration in recent weeks seems to be his own inability to take any action to halt the ongoing catastrophe – and the relentless criticism from all corners over that lack of definitive action.
Before the oil spill put almost all other projects on hold, Obama was also widely criticised for his inability to deliver on his efforts to limits the U.S.’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
Tuesday’s speech tried to take on both issues, but reaction was mixed.
“We are very pleased to hear President Obama reiterate his call for a fundamental change in the nation’s energy policy. The president now needs to lay out the specifics. What exactly are the steps we know we can take now? What kind of sacrifices can be made? How can every American help?” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
Indeed, specifics – of what Obama would like to see in a climate bill or what he will do to mitigate damage from the oil spill – were lacking.
One announcement did come on Wednesday when the president said BP had agreed to set aside 20 billion dollars to compensate people and businesses for damages resulting from the spill.
That account will be managed by a third party, not the government or BP, and be run by the same person who ran the fund that compensated victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ken Feingold.
On the prospects for a climate bill, Obama said he was open to any ideas “as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels”.
“But the one approach I will not accept is inaction,” he said.
The second announcement that preceded the speech Tuesday afternoon came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said that the measures contained within the proposed climate bill titled the American Power Act would only cost U.S. households 79 to 146 dollars a year and that the limits on carbon dioxide emissions in the bill would help avoid the worst effects of climate change.
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