What a difference a month of bad press makes! Four weeks ago, when more than a dozen nations offered to send assistance to the Gulf of Mexico to contain the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Obama administration blew them off. The Washington Post reports today that the White House has begun quietly backtracking, going to the EU to finally ask for some help after millions of gallons have spilled into the water:
Four weeks after the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Obama administration saw no need to accept offers of state-of-the-art skimmers, miles of boom or technical assistance from nations around the globe with experience fighting oil spills. …
In the past week, the United States submitted its second request to the European Union for any specialized equipment to contain the oil now seeping onto the Gulf of Mexico’s marshes and beaches, and it accepted Canada’s offer of 9,842 feet of boom. The government is soliciting additional boom and skimmers from nearly two dozen countries and international organizations.
In late May, the administration accepted Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and 13,779 feet of boom; a Dutch offer of three sets of Koseq sweeping arms, which attach to the sides of ships and gather oil; and eight skimming systems offered by Norway. …
But some lawmakers and outside experts are questioning whether the administration has been too slow to capitalize on these offers, lulled by BP’s estimates on the oil flow rate and on its capacity to cope with the aftermath of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
In mid-May, the administration still wanted to downplay the scope of the disaster. Barack Obama had barely even mentioned it at that point. He certainly wasn’t prepared to admit that the crisis had run out of control, which accepting their help would have admitted.
He no longer has that luxury. The spill has become the greatest environmental disaster since Hurricane Katrina all but erased large portions of New Orleans. As oil washes up onto beaches throughout the Gulf, news media bring cameras to record every tar ball and every sludge-drenched animal they can find. Those who rely on the Gulf for their livelihood now talk about the end of those industries, not just for a year but possibly forever, thanks to the spreading and sinking oil slick.
In 2005, George W. Bush got a lot of criticism for not quickly accepting assistance from our allies. It looks as though Obama has made the same mistake, and in this case, realized it far too late.
Addendum: In the story about domestically-produced boom, I received an update yesterday. Earlier, we had noted that Packgen had been producing thousands of feet of boom in anticipation of the demand in the Gulf from either BP or the federal government, but had not gotten any interest. Admiral Thad Allen appeared unaware of the situation in an interview with Jake Tapper. Lt. Cmdr. J.R. Hoeft (USN), the Online Communications Coordinator for the Unified Area Command – Joint Information Center, sent this note:
The boom manufactured by Packgen did not pass an initial quality control test. Boom is subjected to great wear and tear when placed in the water and must be frequently tended. In order to retain its effectiveness boom must be of high quality. Once Packgen’s boom passes inspection, the company can be considered as a source for supplying boom to the largest oil spill response operation in U.S. history. In the meantime, suitable boom is being identified and obtained quickly and there is currently 459,000 feet of boom stored in the region in addition to the 2.24 million feet deployed.
I thank Commander Hoeft for his update and am happy to post it.