Leading article: The time to assign blame will come later

Related Topics

Day by day, we are learning just how appalling and unstoppable the consequences can be when an oil pipe that is only 21 inches wide snaps open at the bottom of the sea. When the leak was first discovered at the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on 22 April, most observers balanced worries about an incipient environmental disaster against a comforting assumption that within a few days BP would have patched it up. After that, the focus of attention could turn to cleaning up, allotting responsibility and making sure such an event was not repeated.

Yet it's becoming apparent that the disaster is more open-ended than anyone imagined. It's far from clear that a turning point is even in prospect, though the company is talking up the chances of success of its latest plan, which involves inserting a thin tube into the ruptured pipe to siphon the oil to the surface. BP's senior executives must be praying it works out, because almost a month in, each attempt to cap the underwater volcano of oil has come to nought, mainly because of the difficulty of working at such depths.

The embattled oil giant, locked into an acrimonious row with the US government that is only likely to worsen, has thrown the book at this problem. BP's first plan was to place an underwater dome over the leak. Then there was talk of activating the failed shut-off valves which should have sprung into action as soon the pipe blew a hole. Meanwhile they have ringed the spill with a boom and deployed boats to scoop up oil from the surface.

But booms and boats are only palliative measures while the pipe continues to belch away on the seabed. What is alarming is how little progress has been made on that front. If the latest plan, to siphon the oil to the surface, doesn't work, the company will have to drill a new well to drain off the oil at source. This would take months to construct, by which time the spillage will have overtaken the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 to become the worst oil-related disaster in history. For all we know, it could be the worst environmental catastrophe already. US scientists now believe the estimated leakage of 5,000 barrels a day to be a gross underestimate.

Against that almost apocalyptic backdrop, it's not surprising that tempers are fraying in Washington, where deep concern is giving way to panic. Barack Obama's extreme nervousness is understandable. At the moment, reports of an environmental disaster are almost academic to many Americans, because they don't actually see the oil; it's just out there, in the Gulf of Mexico. The President knows he can expect an explosion of fury once the oil washes ashore on the coast of the southern United States, blighting landscapes and destroying the livelihoods of fishermen and people working in the tourist industry. BP knows what lies ahead and knows it is in danger of losing the race against time to cap the leak – hence the defensive tone adopted by its chief executive, Tony Hayward, at the weekend. Each side is putting down markers in the dispute, struggling to set the agenda and the parameters in order to avoid coming off worst in a mounting blame game.

The US administration's desperation to deflect all blame for the spill on to the company is understandable. It is also a little hypocritical. The US government could have insisted on more rigorous security standards for offshore drilling. Too late now to say it won't allow such rigs in future. Finger-pointing, meanwhile, isn't going to help get anything done. Washington would be wise if it bit back its fury, for now, and just got on with helping BP cope with the problem. For its part, BP should stop sounding defensive when answering US demands for more clarification on the question of responsibility for the clean-up. There will be time for recrimination and name-calling over what went wrong at Deepwater Horizon. For now, both sides need to work together on plugging this leak.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Theresa May was kept on as Home Secretary by David Cameron in his post-election Cabinet reshuffle (EPA)  

The Only Way is Ethics: Rights to privacy and free expression will always be at loggerheads

Will Gore
The handling of the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd in 2006 by Thomas Cook was appalling  

Thomas Cook case was a failure of heart

Danny Rogers
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine