Oilmageddon will be industry's Chernobyl

Summary:The Chernobyl disaster killed the nuclear industry for a generation. What might be the impact of what we are seeing in the Gulf right now?

When the history of our time is written the BP oil spill will have done more to harden American attitudes against the oil industry than any other event.

All the Earth Day marches in the world, even Al Gore's most powerful PowerPoint, can't match the photo above, a still shot from BP's own "spillcam" taken May 22.

The Chernobyl disaster killed the nuclear industry for a generation. What might be the impact of what we are seeing in the Gulf right now?

When the leak started a month ago, I was like most Americans. I assumed it would be stopped fairly quickly. I figure some successor to Red Adair would ride to the rescue on a big boat and cap that gusher. That's money flowing out of the seabed, after all.

But as days turned into weeks it became apparent BP does not know what it's doing, and no one else does, either. Politicians who once routinely did Big Oil's bidding are now backpedaling and the Obama Administration is racing to get ahead of what may well be a seismic shift in public attitudes.

A poll taken two weeks ago showed no change in these attitudes, but since then the oil has just continued to flow.

BP's own "spillcam" has become the "money shot" of this disaster -- anyone who lives near the Gulf of Mexico and can watch that for five minutes without crying has no heart. BP's spin that they can clean this up is no longer credible.

I covered the oilpatch a bit on my first job in journalism, at the Houston Business Journal. I know how powerful the industry is. No industry of the 20th century has attained such power.

I also know that politicians of both parties are reluctant to challenge big business, especially in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which let companies put pre-tax dollars to work influencing elections for the first time.

My experience in Houston taught me other things. It taught me just how pernicious this damage will be. The Exxon Valdez spill is still damaging Alaska. This is 10 times worse.

And even if there were a miracle and this well were capped today, things would be getting worse. Hurricane season is coming. Forecasters have no idea what might happen. The whole East Coast could be inundated with oil.

This disaster won't spin. The effects of this spill will last, for the rest of my life, and probably for yours as well.

So here's something for your comments. Are you finally ready, now at long last, to take away this industry's "tax incentives" and give them to greener industries?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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