Not That You Asked

Recycling tar balls

To me, the advertising campaign being waged by British Petroleum to rehabilitate its public image is one thing if you’re a Madison Avenue ad agency and quite another if you’re in New Orleans having an inadvertent second thought about the spécialité de la maison at one of the renowned oyster bars there.
This wouldn’t have come up as an issue but for wondering what the definitive answer will be to how it came about that tar balls ended up on the beaches of North County; with concentrations reported especially just north of Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside.
So far, the talk in official state scientific circles suggests that the tar balls are naturally occurring, dislodged through hydrocarbon seepage spots on the ocean floor; created as the earth composes, decomposes and, if you will, re-composes on a regular basis; shaken loose perhaps by the earthquakes. Just like a cat that licks its fur clean, the ocean coughs up such tar balls and in they drift with the tide.
One other possibility that scientists entertain is that some vessel at sea leaked the residue that congealed into tar balls, a theory that could be validated once the tar is examined closely enough to discover any so-called footprints from which to trace its origins.
Or is there anything, we might also ask, to the notion you could derive from the website of the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration, or NOAA, that the waters are fungible, you can’t totally separate one body of water from another, and if wet gooey “waste” flows thereupon, there’s no telling where it ends up? In the global scheme of things, is it that big of a hop, skip and a jump from the Panama Canal, say, to Cabo San Lucas or the Oceanside Pier?
At any rate, it’s a short though panicky leap from the inferences we might draw from the NOAA site to the discomfiting (albeit speculative) conclusion that the tar balls on our beaches — even as few as they were — came from a bayou far, far away, in the southerly reaches of the State of Louisiana.
That could explain the queasy and angry feelings that come when for a brief moment we see how we’d just love to believe that British Petroleum is genuine and sincere when it conveys via its advertising that it will make everything right again in the Gulf of Mexico. For a second, we are seduced and spellbound by the adroit institutional advertising; we surely want to believe that BP, this bastion of Big Oil, is indeed a great corporate citizen after all.
The fact is that scientists from top-flight universities in the Gulf states have made it clear there’s just no calculating the magnitude of this disaster. Even with the mop up relatively accomplished, no one knows how long it could take for habitats to be restored, or if that’s even possible.
BP talks about $20 billion in reparations. Ken Feinberg, the Bostonian who applied Solomon-like principles to parceling out the limited funds extant to help the survivors of those killed on Sept. 11, is reported to be scratching his head over how to satisfy in any real way the claims for losses sustained by those whose livelihood depends on a robust and healthy Gulf of Mexico. Reporters for Mother Jones magazine at one point looked into BP’s performance as a payer of claims and found BP spent more on advertising than on reparations.
So when the warmth and fuzziness of BP’s print ads and television commercials lull us into feeling good about the oil company’s efforts to undo massive damage that it could have prevented in the first place by heeding a series of warning signs, it’s time for a reality check. Picture a pelican, its food supply poisoned, picking at a bloated, oil-coated fin fish in a bayou and ask ourselves who we — and British Petroleum — are kidding.