The late afternoon sun setting the beach sand on fire, and the ocean water aglow like a jewel. The warm offshore breeze scrubbed away the stress that had been accumulating for far too long, and the …
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The late afternoon sun setting the beach sand on fire, and the ocean water aglow like a jewel. The warm offshore breeze scrubbed away the stress that had been accumulating for far too long, and the endless horizon pried open my mind to possibilities that seem so limited when constrained by an urban perspective.
Gulf Shores, Ala., sits just east of Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. A largely undiscovered vacation paradise, the beaches are sugar white with sand so fine it squeaks under your feet as you walk. The water has already warmed to the point where the re-entry chill is almost non-existent. Two of the state’s finest courses, Kiva Dunes and Peninsula, beckon golfers for a fitting challenge just a half mile down the road.
You’ll hear it referred to as the Redneck Riviera, but trust me, the Bama coast will not disappoint. Regular Profile readers may remember that my voyage south last year was marred, nay, laid waste by an unexpected stay with the good folks at South Baldwin Medical Center who entered my body from a most untoward perspective to explode a disappointingly large kidney stone that decided it was a fine time to make its cloaked presence known.
But this year ‘twas not the case. Our voyage to Fran Hopkins’ beach home, Faith Haven, was just what the doctor should have ordered for me last year. One day of mind-blowing torrential rains followed by a week of bright sun (88-89 degrees each day) and virtually cloudless skies. The only worry was being sure the SPF 30 was doing its job and warding off any ill effects from the sun’s rays, making their way toward my still winter-white flesh from some 93 million miles out in space.
But not too many miles to the west, all was not so merry and bright. And there were concerns much more grave than sunsets and sunburn. About 40 miles off the Louisiana coast oil was gushing into the pristine gulf from the remains of an oil rig the marketing folks at BP (formerly British Petroleum) had dubbed Deepwater Horizon.
A well drilled from the ocean floor about a mile beneath the surface to a depth of some 18,000 feet had exploded, due to some combination of improper maintenance, lax regulation and a very poor roll of the cosmic dice. Fault, responsibility and blame for the explosion, and the resulting environmental damage, will be settled in courtrooms across the globe by our children and their children. This won’t be a quick resolution at any level and it won’t be painless.
Back at Faith Haven, as we enjoyed the luxury of our private beach, helicopters flew constant surveillance routes along the coastline, and men in hard hats, followed by men in four-wheel ATVs, walked slowly along the beach, poking with sticks at anything they suspected might be related to the disaster up the coast. Anything they found suspect was placed carefully in little plastic bags for further investigation.
While the oil was already wreaking havoc on the Louisiana wetlands, the Bama coast had thus far been spared from the growing “slick.” The dime-sized remnants the beach-combers were finding were hard, which indicated they were “old,” and most likely results of the initial explosion, we were told, rather than the sludge floating out at sea.
No one really knows who will be spared and who will take a direct hit. There is every indication that we will all pay dearly in one way or the other. This largest spill to ever hit our waters will certainly alter the fishing industry, portions of the coastline, and devastate many lives in an area that has been hit too hard already.
Ecologists warn that the damage could be far more widespread. Underwater currents could spread the slimy stew of oil and chemical dispersants around the Florida Keys and up the East Coast, laying waste to the world’s largest living coral reefs and whatever else might come in its path.While we pray for a miracle, we prepare for bad news.
Who’s to blame? Where do we go from here? I have more questions than answers.
While the world is pleading for an end to the carnage, BP is howling that we must understand that the work to stem the flow of oil is being done a mile beneath the surface, and conditions are severe. It seems to me they were able to work well enough under the water to build this precision system – going another two miles-plus beneath the ocean floor – so I’m figuring the skills and the engineering are there to shut the damn thing down.
Unfortunately, my guess is, BP, et al., were more concerned about keeping their well functioning than in preserving the health of the world in which they exist. If the goal had been to simply kill it, I believe it would be killed by now.
I am a strong supporter of the need to move toward alternative sources of energy. I believe we need to do what is necessary to ween ourselves off our petroleum addiction. However, the day is long gone when we allow commercial operations of any sort to destroy our planet as a by-product of production. Businesses must honor the environment in the course of doing commerce. Our land, water and air cannot become their dumping grounds.
We should all continue to do whatever we can to lessen our carbon footprint as we live our lives, and we should urge our leaders to make a real push for alternative sources of energy, but I believe the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is born of greed. And, if I am being unfair and BP’s motives are pure, and it simply is not possible to do any better due to conditions, then what in the name of all that is holy and sacred are we doing drilling at those depths?
It is time for the cozy relationships between the government and the oil producers to end. It is time for some sanity to be injected into our energy policy. It is time to put that dying oil well to sleep.
If you’ve never visited Gulf Shores, you should. And not just because it is one sweet little vacation spot. But because as you sit on the shore watching the evening sky grow dark, and look at the horizon, you’ll realize the scope of oil drilling off our shores. As far as the eye can see, the night sky is dotted by rigs pulling black gold from the deepest reaches of this third rock from the sun. Deepwater Horizon is only one of hundreds. The potential for ongoing disaster staggers the mind.
While I believe BP must be held financially responsible for cleaning up their mess, it’s time for us all to be morally responsible for altering the landscape of energy delivery in a more positive direction.
Each one of us plays a role. It’s time we all stopped auditioning for the Town Fool.
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