Safari company & publisher
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel

The BP horror

BP Horror
Map showing the current impact of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

There can surely be no one on this planet that is not horrified at the ongoing oil disaster taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. It can only be described as environmental rape of the severest kind.

It is now two months since the BP rig exploded and the most alarming aspect is that despite various attempts, there still appears to be no solution in sight. While it is humbling that our technological arrogance has been checked, this is no solace when considering the scale of what is happening. Adding to the sense of crisis are the scientists and engineering experts that now indicate the true nature of the spill is actually far worse than initially thought. Within days of the accident, industry sources estimated between 1 000 and possibly 5 000 barrels of oil were being spilled into the ocean on a daily basis. Last week, Time magazine reported US government officials from the Department of The Interior now saying the leak could be spewing as much as 60 000 barrels, *or* 9.5 million litres, of oil per day into the ocean. Many of you will still remember the Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska, regarded as the worst oil disaster ever, up until now. To put the present BP horror into perspective, the same report equates these updated estimates to be the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill every four days! And to think that BP has said there may be up to 7.6 billion litres of oil, *or* 50 million barrels, left in the reservoir.

While the squabbling between politicians and company executives, as well as the statistics and environmental and economic ramifications have grabbed the headlines, this mess also throws the spotlight sharply on two other crucial factors.

Firstly, there is no way we cannot acknowledge that this disaster exposes in the harshest manner humanity’s unsustainable existence. It is the ultimate symbol of our excess and the crude attitude we have towards the environment in general. Along with its performance since this spill began, BP’s history and the record it has in other countries, Nigeria for example, indicates that all the negative press it gets is deserved. But in the rush to condemn, let us not forget that in some small way, each one of us, so reliant on fossil fuels as individuals, communities and countries, has played a part. While BP is the face of this disaster, most of us in some way are bit players as well.

And this leads to the next issue – the future. Every government, public and private body needs to prioritise the search for alternatives to fossil fuels as we wean ourselves from their gooey hold. If ever a reality check was needed for us to recognise that efforts must be redoubled, then this is surely it.

Lastly, the corporate world has taken a few hits in the last few years – this nightmare for BP and the fossil fuel industry ranks in many ways with the recent banking and financial crisis. Influential they may be, but amoral attitudes and a belief that the standing and status of their corporation allows them to operate above all other considerations is no longer acceptable. This is central to the outrage being expressed by the general public.

Shenton Safaris
Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.