The Deepwater Horizon experienced a blowout and caught fire on April 20, 2010. (I remember the date because it is my birthday.) Since then, enormous amounts of oil have been spewing, pretty much unabated, into the Gulf of Mexico. Amazingly, more than a month after the incident we seem no closer to plugging the spigot and stopping the flow of oil than we were the day the blowout occurred.
It is now clear that the United States is facing an environmental disaster of the first magnitude. We have seen the pictures of the massive oil slick and the oil-soaked birds, we know about the fragile wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas on the Gulf Coast and the Florida coastline that will be devastated if they are reached by the oil slick, and we understand that entire industries — like the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast — are likely to be ravaged by the catastrophic spill.
It also seems clear that the Deepwater Horizon and its aftermath will have significant political consequences. Supporters of offshore deep water drilling for oil are going to have a tough time explaining why we should sanction risky conduct that, in the event of a mishap, threatens such appalling consequences and is apparently so impossible to remedy. And while I am not someone who believes the federal government should be able to snap its fingers and solve every massive problem immediately, it is hard not to question why we haven’t been able to at least contain the spill and promptly collect, distribute, and place booms to try to fence off environmentally critical areas. There is a whiff of incompetence in the federal government’s seemingly haphazard response to both the initial incident and the resulting oil spill that no amount of political spin can dispel.