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Sub standard

John Bell

July 8, 2023
In April of 2010 the single biggest human-caused environmental disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico: the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform exploded, beginning a 4-month long gusher of crude oil from the ocean bed. A number of corporations were involved, and the usual flags of convenience to avoid taxation and legal culpability, but ultimately BP was responsible.
The explosion released over 200 million gallons of oil and fouling almost 200 square kilometers of the Gulf, destroying the fishing and shrimping industries and washing up on beaches from Mexico to the tip of Florida. Years later scientist report that the site is still leakingoil, reports denied by the US government and BP. 
What is crucial to know is that the Deepwater Horizon was designed to operate at depths of up to 3,000 meters, which is risky enough, but in its greed BP was exploiting oil deposits at almost twice that depth, about 3 miles beneath the ocean surface. Responsible scientists pointed out what the disaster itself proved: there is no safe way to drill for oil or operate at those depths.
Please keep all that in mind, while I change gears and talk about the OceanGate submersible incident recently in the news.
Unless you have been stuck on the ocean floor, you know all about the implosion of the sub, and the deaths of the ultra-rich passengers and OceanGate’s captain, designer and corporate CEO Stockton Rush. Reactions were polarized: the more we discovered about Rush’s arrogance, his disdain for regulations and basic safety measures, the more jokes and satiric memes appeared. In response the liberal media grumbed about how mean and nasty the unwashed masses are, and why can’t we just be civil: billionaire lives matter too.
As my friend, political writer Nora Loretto observed, the OceanGate offers a telling political Rorschach test. The majority, facing crises of affordability, precarious employment, environmental destruction and an obscene gap between the oligarchic ruling class and the rest of us, is hard-pressed to feel sympathy for frivolous billionaires who paid so much to die so ridiculously.
Rather than rant about the idle rich, let’s zoom in on Stockton Rush. The business and entrepreneurial media loved the guy, interviews and quotes abound, so we have a pretty clear picture of his ideology and ambitions.
In a TV interview Rush said, “I’d like to be remembered as an innovator.” I’d say that ship has sailed (sorry). He continued: “I think it was General McArthur who said you’re remembered for the rules you break. I’ve broken some rules to make this [sub]. I think I’ve broken them with logic and good engineering behind me.” 
Rush insisted that too much safety was “a waste” and that regulations were designed to stifle  his “innovation”. His interviews are a jumble of libertarian jargon and piratical self-confidence. He comes off as a cross between Ayn Rand and Jacques Cousteau. Unfortunately for Rush and his passengers, no amount of free market “logic” can trump the laws of physics. Deep sea scientists and submersible experts publicly pleaded with Rush to stop the trips. When one such expert, Rob McCallum, wrote expressing a long list of concerns, Rush’s lawyers threatened to sue him.
For me, the kicker was that Rush saw the Titanic trips as a dry run (sorry) for bigger and creepier things. According to The Insider corporate newsletter: “OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush’s ambitions for the Titanic sub went beyond exploration – he said it was his gateway into a multi-billion dollar industry that harvests oil and gas from the ocean.”
Stockton Rush imagined himself as the Elon Mush of the ocean floor, and set out to huff, puff and bluff his way to the big time. Fossil fuels was his golden ticket. Isn’t it funny how often, when you look beneath the surface (sorry), things come back to the oil and gas industry.
So to return to where we began, OceanGate boss Stockton Rush considered his real endgame to cash in on exploiting deep-sea oil and gasdeposits at depths beyond what are considered safe. 
In these days of climate change and promised transition to sustainable energy, who would be irresponsible enough to propose dangerous new deep water oil wells?
In April the Trudeau government okayed new deep sea drilling projects in the Bay du Nord, off Newfoundland. Along the way they also exempted exploratory drilling from environmental regulations. One of the corporationsthey are working with is BP. 
One last word. Scientists are warning that our oceans are in severe crisis. Mass die-offs of marine and bird species, extinction of coral reef habits and murderous deep sea trawling by factory ships take their toll. Warming oceans mean melting ice caps and glaciers, altering salinity and leading to destruction of coastal environments. They also spawn more, and more violent cyclones and hurricanes and alter weather patterns. Read more about it here:
We desperately need to explore the oceans with the intent to understand this destruction and search for ways to heal the damage. We need safe equipment, meeting scientific standards, to allow us to study the deep oceans. What we do not need is cheap, unsafe, lowest bidder technology designed to maximize profits and intended to exploit the very resources that are the root cause of the crisis in the first place.
Everything about the destruction of the OceanGate, the career of Stockton Rush and its fossil fuel back-story is an indictment of the insanity of neo-liberal capitalism.
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