Andrew Nikiforuk writes that we falsely assume we can clean up oil spills -- because we believe we have the technology to do it:
In many respects, society's theatrical response to catastrophic oil spills resembles the way medical professionals respond to aggressive cancer in an elderly patient. Because surgery is available, it is often used. Surgery also creates the impression that the health-care system is doing something even though it can't change or reverse the patient's ultimate condition. In an oil-based society, the cleanup delusion is also irresistible. Just as it is difficult for us to acknowledge the limits of medical intervention, society struggles to acknowledge the limits of technologies or the consequences of energy habits. And that's where the state of marine oil spill response sits today: it creates little more than an illusion of a cleanup. Scientists -- outside the oil industry -- call it "prime-time theatre" or "response theatre."
Technology has its limits:
Part of the illusion has been created by ineffective technologies adopted and billed by industry as "world class." Ever since the 1970s, the oil and gas industry has trotted out four basic ways to deal with ocean spills: booms to contain the oil; skimmers to remove the oil; fire to burn the oil; sand chemical dispersants, such as Corexit, to break the oil into smaller pieces. For small spills these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.
Conventional containment booms, for example, don't work in icy water, or where waves run amok. Burning oil merely transforms one grave problem -- water pollution -- into sooty greenhouse gases and creates air pollution. Dispersants only hide the oil by scattering small droplets into the water column, yet they often don't even do that since conditions have to be just right for dispersants to work. Darryl McMahon, a director of RESTCo, a firm pursuing more effective cleanup technologies, has written extensively about the problem, and his opinion remains: "Sadly, even after over 40 years experience, the outcomes are not acceptable. In many cases, the strategy is still to ignore spills on open water, only addressing them when the slicks reach shore."
The only way to avoid oil spills is to avoid oil. Yet the word from Cleveland this week is that the Republicans plan to revive the Keystone XL pipeline. It's called blind stupidity.