• Can the nation handle two massive oil cleanups at once? Monday, May 17, 2010

    Just in case you’re the worrying sort, we’ll give you a little something to add to the “what if?” list. We know from experience what a horrendous mess, and environmental catastrophe, oil spills can be. After a 1969 blowout on one of the offshore drilling rigs that dot the central coast of California, some 100,000 barrels of crude oil spread a massive oil slick that coated 35 miles of coastline.

    Photo of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill from the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Photo of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill from the U.S. Geological Survey.

    It took millions of dollars and a lot of years for that mess to get cleaned up, and for the coast to return to somewhat normal conditions. The silver lining: The disaster invigorated the environmental movement and helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    But the oil wells are still there — the San Francisco Chronicle has mashed up a Google map showing the locations. And where there are oil wells, there’s the risk of a leak. And where there are leaks, there are squabbles about whose responsibility it is to clean it up. We told you a few days ago about the ’80s deal in which the oil companies were able to foist off on consumers a tax to feed a kitty to be tapped for cleanups, in return for limiting the coporations liability to $75 million.

    So we’ve been doing the math. The disaster in the Gulf — still mostly offshore — could cost $1 billion to clean up, which would be a massive draw down on the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fundnow at about $1.6 billion. So what happens if one of the wells off Santa Barbara blows up? Will $600 million handle the cleanup? Can the oil industry be forced to pay for the full cost of its own messes?  Can the nation handle two disasters like that at once?

    Worry away ….

  • Congress moves to lift oil spill liability cap
  • ’80s oil-spill liability deal caps BP’s Gulf disaster damages
  • Legal actions relating to Gulf oil disaster about to begin
  • First Gulf of Mexico oil spill suit filed by shrimpers
  • How BP limits what you learn, and what you know

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