If you haven’t heard enough of BP executives proclaiming innocence over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, get ready for act two. The people who brought you tarry beaches and oil-soaked pelicans are all set to do the same to pristine rocky coasts and unsuspecting penguins in the South Atlantic. The only difference when the sea lion well blows off the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands is that there will be no capping and no clean-up. BP will still pin the blame on “contractors” and do whatever it can to walk away with as much salvaged oil as it can muster.
Maybe BP will be lucky and the new oil wells down south won’t blow, but the prevailing public opinion down here in the southern cone of South America is that we are next in line for another environmental disaster. This one will be less troublesome for BP as their legal connection to the well is murkier and there is no powerful governmental authority on shore to insist that they pay for their mistakes.
The sea lion well off the coast of the Malvinas came into operation recently despite a current long-standing dispute between Argentina and Great Britain over the right to tap into the hydrocarbon resources in the Malvinas basin. Britain won the Falklands War in 1982, kicking out the Argentine military that had occupied the islands, but the issue of sovereignty and mineral rights has remained unresolved. Since the war, both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have said that the 2,000 British citizens who occupy the islands are colonists and that the Malvinas is a colonial territory. Further, both countries who have claims on the territory must negotiate issues of sovereignty and mineral rights before any activity like increasing the colony or extracting its oil can take place. Since the two combatants resumed diplomatic relations in 1992, Britain has refused to discuss these issues, preferring to rely on war rather than diplomacy as the solution to the problem. This is very convenient for BP as wells have since been drilled in the Malvinas offshore waters with the permission only of Her Majesty’s Government.
When the Sea Lion well blows, BP will tell all, as they did after deepwater horizon, that it wasn’t their well. It belongs to Rockhopper. Rockhopper, they will say, is an independent drilling enterprise run and owned by Falklanders, a completely local enterprise. But wait. A check of Rockhopper’s senior management and board of directors shows that all are currently residents of England and, guess what?, former BP employees. The fact that Rockhopper sells the oil it currently extracts to BP for distribution is just accidental and implies no responsibility on the part of BP for any damage that Rockhopper might incur.
In corporate parlance, Rockhopper is a shell company. Just like the old shell game they are named after, such companies are made to look independent in order to avoid any liability for the mother company. Down here there will be no Barack Obama to look under the shell and find BP and make them responsible. No doubt this shell is so well-constructed to protect BP as the probability of accident and future liability may be even greater in the Malvinas than it is in the Gulf of Mexico.
The sea lion well and Rockhopper’s future wells are in waters that reach a depth of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). This is twice as deep as deepwater horizon and thus more than twice as hazardous. Should one of these wells blow, there will be no attempt to cap it nor will there be much of any attempt to clean up the oil when it comes up to coat the beaches and the rockhopper penguins after which the shell company was named. It almost makes a person wonder if this whole enterprise isn’t just some sort of macabre joke played on us by the big corporate strategists. After all, sea lions do eat rockhoppers. When it happens, it won’t be a joke.
Argentines on shore are helpless to do anything about BP’s latest reckless adventure in their off shore waters. Neither BP nor the British Government are willing to stop or talk about the issue of drilling in the Malvinas. The big corporation’s right to do do what it wants wherever its needed resources happen to be is backed up by the military power of Great Britain. Argentines can now only sit and wait until the day when the Malvinas return to them in the form of tar balls on the beaches of Patagonia.
Argentina, for its part, has been somewhat more responsible on the issue of offshore oil drilling than the folks at BP. The presence of oil in the basin that covers the 500 kilometer (300 mile) stretch between the islands and the mainland has been known for a long time. The Argentine national oil company has been forbidden to drill these waters due to the dangers of deepwater drilling and the need of the Argentine government to preserve the resource for the future. It’s too bad for the penguins that Argentina lost the war. BP came out the only winner.
What about the colonists? What will happen to them when their beloved island paradise is coated in a sea of crude petroleum? The fishing and seal and sea lion hunting that supports most of these 2,000 souls will be nothing more than a bitter memory. Such a small number of people can be pensioned off and flown back to Britain, leaving the islands and the mess along with them at the disposition of Argentina. Surely, BP will do that for them. It’s the least they can do.
Eddie Zawaski is a contributing Salem-News.com writer based in Patagonia, Argentina.