Foreign Oil Company Dependency

It is ironic that the Obama Administration which came to Washington with perhaps the greatest dedication to environmental issues of any in modern history has had to deal with the worst oil spill in our history.  It is tragic that the Administation has yet to get its arms around the crisis.  If oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico through August when it is said that a second well can be drilled, then the spill will not only be an unprecedented health and environmental disaster but may also hobble the Obama presidency and undermine America's global reputation for years.

The spill obviously grows worse day by day.  But it also has the unfortunate quality--like the Iranian hostage crisis for President Carter or the Iraq war in President Bush's second term--that each day without improvement adds to the sense of frustration.  The ability to handle a crisis is a sine qua non  of Presidential leadership.  However, the problem is not just one for President Obama, Democratic prospects in the fall or, for that matter, the oil industry.  Rather it impacts the reputation of the United States as a country that is competent in the use of technology, master of its destiny and able to exercise world leadership.

While this disaster appears to have no easy answer--no disaster ever does--it is imperative that the Administration upgrade the level of its response.  At first, it may have made sense to try to charge BP with solving a problem it created.  But we have long sense reached the stage where the cause of the crisis is less important than its resolution. 

In this regard, several changes in approach suggest themselves.

First, while BP created the spill, it makes the President and the US look weak to depend on BP to resolve it.  Depending on a foreign company to solve a technological and environmental problem is what a developing country does because it lacks knowhow and resources of its own.  America, in contrast, has knowhow.  Accordingly, one has to ask, where are the US oil companies in the response so far?  Understandably they want to stay out of it.  However, BP is not the only company in the world that drills in deep water.  Exxon Mobil, to pick one example, drills all over the world and has expertise the White House ought to be tapping.  Halliburton was actually a contractor to BP in building the rig that exploded.  The Administration should conscript the entire US oil industry--and the global oil industry for that matter--to help cap the well.  The US is bigger than BP and we cannot and should not be or appear dependent on one company that may be headed to bankruptcy to solve a problem threatening the fishing and tourism industry in multiple states.

Second, the Administration needs to mount a more muscular clean up effort that has passed the level where BP can conceivably handle it.  Again requests that BP change its use of dispersants and so forth--trying to limit this to a BP problem--makes the Administration and America look weak.  The Adminisration needs to harness the talents and energy of the entire US oil industry, regional maritime industry and armed forces and beef up efforts to organize volunteers, deploy ships and otherwise take measures to contain damage.  This is an international issue as well since the oil may touch Gulf and Caribbean countires and, at the international level, only the US government can coordinate action.

One other thing to grap about this crisis is that it is not about large or small government.  It is about a core function of government, disaster response that involves coordinating public and private efforts.  Failure of the government to succeed in this core role can only undermine trust in government to undertake more complex challenges like managing health care or regulating carbon. 

At the end of the day, the United States, still the greatest economic and naval power on earth, has a great deal more resources than one foreign oil company, BP to fight this diaster.  It is time to bring those resources to bear.