Dr. Thomas B. Manton, who recently passed away in Tallahassee, FL prepared A Presentation to President Barack Obama on the BP Gulf Oil Spill. This informal presentation was prepared and submitted by Tom during the weeks prior to the capping of the gushing well at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is important to note that some of Tom’s first challenges in the oil spill control arena began in the Middle East. During the early 80’s, Saudi Arabia was being particularly vexed by the oil spills contaminating their multi-million dollar desalinization plants along their coasts. The huge, expensive filtration membranes were constantly being ruined by the spilt oil, as other parts of the desalinization process were also being compromised.
Needless to say, these early challenges forced Tom to think outside the box, since the purity and cleanliness of the water was of paramount importance to the Saudis. It wasn’t just a matter of cleaning up the spilt oil. It had to be done in the smartest way possible, free of toxic side effects, collateral damage to the environment or unintended consequences of any kind.
The fruit of his contemplation of these matters was never enjoyed by BP or many of the other big oil companies. As a matter fact, Tom always said that BP was consistently on the other side of the playing field. Their preferred method of oil spill remediation was to disappear it with dispersants; what we called the pharmaceutical approach of treating the symptoms fast to make them go away. Then, out of sight, out of mind.
The biggest obstacle to overcoming this inherently flawed institutional response was that the Oil & Gas Industry was so invested in dispersant companies. Just as BP and Exxon Mobil are heavily invested in Nalco Holding Company, the manufacturers of COREXIT. Tom saw early on that the momentum was clearly moving in that direction, given the evolving institutional arrangements whereby many of these companies enjoyed interlocking directorates, partnerships around various enterprises, and customer loyalties to each other’s products and services.
Truly, if the numerous protocols and various processes/procedures which he was successful at instituting during the earliest days of organized oil spill control were currently in place, the oceans of the world would not be in such jeopardy. Perhaps by reading and disseminating his words, we will increase the likelihood that reason will prevail in this ongoing global discourse about finally transitioning the planet away from the hydrocarbon fuel paradigm.
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