BP's Bad Timing

If you were BP, wouldn't you wait for the right time to go back to the U.S. government to ask for more permits to drill? What would seem like a good time to do that? Surely, it wouldn't be when oil is gushing uncontrollably from a BP site on the cold, dark ocean floor, or a day when oiled birds were washing up on beaches. Certainly fisheries closures wouldn't still be keeping Gulf fishermen from working, and people wouldn't still be rebuilding their lives, after losing jobs, and even loved ones following the explosion.

I picture BP coming back for more drilling rights on a bright, sunny day, with clear blue skies, birds chirping and butterflies fluttering around. Flowers would be blooming, and green marsh grasses would be swaying with the fresh breeze. The kind of day when it seems as if there is not a care in the world.

Sadly, that's not how the Gulf looked yesterday, or today. BP's announcement that it wants more drilling permits came on a day when the Gulf still looks more like a traumatized post-disaster site than the pretty picture of recovery we so hope for. Everywhere we look we see reminders that the oil is not gone and people and wildlife are still suffering.

Just two weeks ago there was a large oil sheen spotted in the Gulf, not the first since the Deepwater Horizon of course, but one which was tracked back to an area near two abandoned wells. There are about 27,000 such wells in the Gulf with the potential to leak at any time, and oftentimes do so unnoticed since they are neither monitored nor adequately inspected.

Then, just last week, a new oil sheen was found near the site of the Deepwater Horizon. BP's initial response was less than helpful, but independent chemical analysis showed that the oil looks an awful lot like theirs. The sheen can't really be explained by a passing boat, or a leaking rig. A natural seep is a very low odds possibility, not to mention a convenient theory for BP. But many believe this oil may be coming from the well, either from the abandoned riser, or from a leak springing from a fracture caused by the blowout. BP has no good explanation. They say they don't see the sheen. But it's bad timing to be asking for more drilling.

Maybe they couldn't see the sheen because far from being a clear, sunny day, the ocean is stirred up thanks to Hurricane Lee. Lee isn't the first hurricane to hit the area since the spill, and it won't be the last. It's a reminder that more permits for drilling in the Gulf may not be such a good idea. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita famously led to numerous spills in Hurricane Alley. When there's a hurricane threatening the existing Gulf rigs, it may be a bad time to ask for more permits.

And finally, anyone who did think it might be a nice beach day may have been disappointed to be greeted by a fresh new batch of tar balls on the shoreline. BP oil? Authorities are not yet sure. But one thing is for sure: it wasn't the first set of tar balls to wash up, and it won't be the last. Especially not if BP and other oil companies continue to insist that their right to drill trumps everything else in the Gulf. Oh, and one other thing: It's probably not a good day to ask for more drilling rights.