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Gulf spill: Who's the biggest loser?

TV's apparent addiction to mostly bad reality shows leaves me puzzled that clever network producers have not jumped on the BP gulf oil spill.

If we can all gape at The Biggest Loser about very large people trying to shed unwanted pounds, surely television's elite can figure out how to milk a hit TV show based on who will be damaged most by the country's worst environmental disaster.

Growing numbers of biggest loser contestants include:

• BP — Despite its PR campaigns insisting it's doing all it can do, BP's failure to stop the massive leak, revelations of company shortcuts and the rising animosity of our Gulf Coast population are all rapidly turning the oil exploration corporation into Public Enemy No. 1.

Don't compare this oil spill only to the Exxon Valdez spill. Its impact is more like Union Carbide's 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster in India, whose costs later forced Carbide to be merged out of existence. BP may not know it yet, but its tab could top $100 billion.

• The Gulf of Mexico — The glorious gulf will now be rebranded globally as ground zero of one of the nastiest oil spills ever, a long-term image sure to depress the seafood industry, recreational fishing business and tourism.

• Obama administration — The president's insistence that the federal government is fully engaged and in control of the overall oil spill fix is unconvincing. Where are the federal resources in the gulf waters? Where are the U.S. troops on the besieged shorelines? Where is a true oil spill leader? When former Gen. Russel Honore finally arrived in New Orleans to help following Hurricane Katrina, good things started to occur.

• The Gulf Coast states — We do not know how much and for how long leaking oil will hit the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and, perhaps, Florida. But local economies already are suffering. If the oil spill continues for months, as BP now suggests, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil may leak and will end up somewhere.

• The U.S. oil industry — Just as domestic oil exploration was about to get a boost, BP proves it was not taking adequate measures to ensure against a major spill. The backlash in new laws and regulations, commendable to reduce domestic drilling risks ahead, will be expensive and likely increase our dependence on foreign oil sources.

• U.S. reputation for innovation — Does anybody else wonder why more people with more horsepower are not involved in trying to stop this leak? The federal government keeps citing Energy Secretary Stephen Chu's Nobel Prize as if it alone confirms the feds are 110 percent committed. Lately, Chu's greatest contribution is to urge BP to stop using mud to plug the hole in the bottom of the gulf. Is that the best U.S. innovation can offer?

• Key individuals affected by the oil spill — Irish bookie Paddy Power offers 6-to-4 odds that BP CEO Tony Hayward will be the first to lose his job due to the oil spill. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is at 14-to-1, White House energy adviser Carol Browner at 16-to-1 and President Barack Obama at 20-to-1. U.S. Minerals Management Service chief Liz Birnbaum, in charge of the federal agency overseeing drilling, already got the boot.

If Reality TV doesn't bite, how about a mini-series about the U.S. oil industry? Call it Houston, We Have a Problem.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Gulf spill: Who's the biggest loser? 05/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 31, 2010 9:04pm]
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