In a recent blog by The Intellectual Activist, An Objectivist Review, Robert Tracinski makes a bold statement about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in saying that the real disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is not an environmental disaster but is “a government-made disaster” with respect to the economy.
His two main arguments regarding the spill were 1) that the fishery closures and the moratorium on deep-sea drilling were pre-emptive and will prove to be a detriment to the economy and 2) that the oil spill has not caused an environmental disaster.
The closing of fisheries and the moratorium on deep-sea drilling
In the first paragraph of his blog Robert Tracinski attempts to discredit the seriousness of the oil spill using an excerpt from a New York Times article which describes the anticipated announcement from the U.S. government stating that the majority of oil spilled had been taken care of with the help of natural processes and human intervention. There was an immediate backlash towards this claim by scientist and environmental groups who claimed that the government misinterpreted the data which might have been due to a political agenda to lessen the perceived damage . When the government, in a position of authority, is the source of misinformation in what was considered to be the largest oil spill on record, it is understandable to have diminished confidence in their abilities. However, the closing of the fisheries in oil affected areas was not based on misinformation, but based on implementing reasonable safety measures to address concerns for the public’s health and safety. The author would like you to believe that this is the implementation of the precautionary principle to demonstrate that the current government takes the approach of “assume that it’s tainted and ban it, then look at the evidence later”. However, the decision to close fisheries was not an example of the precautionary principle, which makes decisions based on possible damage, as the damage had already occurred, but more accurately could be based on the human rights principle which addresses our rights to health and wellbeing.
Next he attempts to demonstrate that the government is indecisive in its commitments based on its disregard of Judge Martin Feldman’s preliminary injunction of the moratorium put in place by the government and then their early lifting of the same moratorium. Robert Tracinski makes no mention that there were concerns that the same judge may not have been impartial in the ruling owing to personal investments in companies that would be directly affected by the moratorium .
In an article by Larry West, the United States Interior Secretary Ken Salazar explained that the decision to impose a Moratorium on the drilling of oil was based on concerns for the health and protection of local communities, coasts and wildlife . They felt that the industries oil spill response plan was inefficient to deal with the current situation and before drilling could commence again there needed to be an investigation and new plans drafted . The shutting down of fishing and oil exploration was the responsible decision. Their decisions could be seen as implementing the participation principle, which includes the environmental impact assessment and the equity principle which includes the consideration of future generations.
Of course in decision making the economy needs to be factored in and, unfortunately, in this scenario there is a tradeoff; health and safety to the detriment of economic growth and stability. The tourism industry will also suffer until people feel confident that the crisis is over. On the flip side, due to this disaster there has been an influx of people involved in the management of the aftermath from government officials to volunteers. These people will all need to eat and sleep; there will be a demand for boats and all the necessary equipment for clean-up and research crews. It is unclear if this contribution to the local economy would outweigh the anticipated job loss.
It is too early to know the extent of environmental damage, if any, caused by the oil spill
From the beginning of the incident, approximately six months ago, and since the flow of oil was halted in July, there is very little information to be found in the way of official reports and published research. At present there is still research being conducted as well as continued clean-up and restoration of the ocean and coastline. A very brief report put out by NOAA on November 1, 2010 shows that research teams have found wildlife affected by the oil spill, namely birds and sea turtles . And further in a very brief article on the NOAA website “Deeper Insights: Researching the Spill Under the Sea”, as of November 3rd they have discovered coral colonies at a depth of approximately 1400 meters that are either dead or dying . These are examples of detrimental ecological effects that we know of currently. Though, much is still unknown about the short term and long term effects on the marine life and the example of the captured marine life, live and dead, and coral only demonstrates that much marine life, those in deep sea environments, will not be as easy to assess and whose effects may be most prominent.
Robert Tracinski’s argument should not be considered an evidence based argument as his reasoning and support for these claims are aimed at attacking the character of the government, and making conclusions about the potential environmental impact based on no official reports or published research. I argue that the government did make the responsible and necessary decisions in calling the closure of fisheries in areas directly affected by the spill and for a moratorium on off-shore deep sea oil drilling. Further, it is entirely too soon to make the claim that the oil spill has and will have no effects on the surrounding environment. I do however agree that the already crippled U.S. economy will only fair worse from the temporary and partial shut-down of two major industries but as a direct cause of the oil spill and not the government’s reaction to it.
 An Overview of Protected Species Commonly Found in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA Fisheries Service. 2006. http://www.offshoreoperators.com/marinedebris/Protected-Species-In-GOM-NOAA.pdf Accessed November 2, 2010.
 West, L. Government Imposes New Deepwater Offshore Drilling Moratorium. About.com: Environmental Issues. July 13, 2010. http://environment.about.com/b/2010/07/13/government-imposes-new-deepwater-offshore-drilling-moratorium.htm Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Deepwater Horizon Response Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report. 2010. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). http://www.restorethegulf.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Consolidated%20Wildlife%20Table%20110210.pdf Accessed November 4, 2010.
 Deep Sea Subsurface Oil Assessment. 2010. Restore The Gulf.gov. http://www.restorethegulf.gov/ Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Deepwater BP Oil Spill, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). November 1, 2010. http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/FINAL-NRDA_by_the_Numbers_11.03.pdf.pdf Accessed November 11, 2010.
 Goldenberg, S. Gulf Oil Spill: White House Accused of Spinning Report. August 5, 2010. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/05/oil-spill-white-house-accused-spin Accessed November 11, 2010.
 Near Shore Submerged Oil Assessment. 2010. Restore The Gulf.gov. http://www.restorethegulf.gov/ Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Tracy, T. Groups Seek Judge’s Removal in Drilling-Moratorium Case. July 2, 2010. The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704293604575343361857605650.html Accessed November 10, 2010.
 Deeper Insights: Researching the Spill Under the Sea. NOAA. http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/2010/11/deeper-insights-researching-the-spill-under-the-sea/ Accessed November 10, 2010.