When it comes to the Obama administration’s recent move to open portions of the Atlantic coast to oil exploration, I’m a bit out of synch with environmentalists who are worried about the big spill. They warn of another Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez-type fiasco coming to the Southeast. But to me, it’s just about the day-to-day business of chasing oil, the wrong-headedness of it all.
It’s not that I don’t have some personal history with the major oil calamities of recent decades; I do. In my early teens the first televised images of oil-coated birds during the 1969 blowout off Santa Barbara shocked me and the nation, inspiring the first Earth Day and propelling a burst of environmental laws. Twenty years later, at home working on a scientific paper, I heard the radio’s news of the Exxon Valdez’ rupture and of thousands of oiled birds and otters, and began sobbing at my desk. A decade later, I visited Cordova, Alaska, and saw how the pain and disruption from the spill had seeped into lives of the people there as thoroughly as the oil had seeped into shoreline sediments and the livers of waterfowl. And in 2010, I spent a lot of time along, on, and above the Gulf of Mexico while oil freely gushed from the hole that BP had made in our coastal soul. There was the failure of the ‘blowout preventer’ to prevent the blowout, the crazy “junk shot” attempt to jam golf balls and shredded tires down a gushing well against the force of the upward-shooting oil, the ghastly photo of the nearly unrecognizable brown pelican jacketed in crude as it died. My chronicle of that summer of anguish became the book A Sea in Flames.