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An oilman’s conscience

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Rick Horowitz
June 1, 2010

In my charitable moments, I picture Dick Cheney fretting.


He’s got the news on—the latest news about the spill in the Gulf of Mexico—and Dick Cheney is troubled. Deeply troubled.


Who wouldn’t be? How can anyone look at those pictures from the Gulf of Mexico and not be troubled? The waters fouled, the marshes threatened. Animals gasping for air, struggling to fly. Poisons in the food chain. And no end in sight: weeks—even months—of ever-spreading disaster, with potential damage measured in decades.


Who wouldn’t be troubled?


Dick Cheney is a hunter, after all; he’s long taken pleasure in the great outdoors. How could an outdoorsman not wince—or even weep—at what he’s seeing?


But there’s more to it than that, of course. Dick Cheney isn’t just a hunter.


He’s an oilman.


And what must an oilman be thinking when he turns on the news and sees the stain growing larger by the hour? The stain of oil on the water. Oil in the water. Oil on the beaches, in the grasses, on feathers and beaks and shells. The boats idled by oil. The livelihoods ruined by oil. And more oil all the time, that sinister cloud spewing from that ruptured pipe.

What must an oilman be thinking?


In my charitable moments, I picture Dick Cheney fretting.


Yes, it’s a devil’s bargain, he’s thinking, and the devil will have his due; it’s the cost of doing business. The nation runs on oil. Moves on oil. Oil keeps the American engine humming—it’s as simple as that.


Still…


Still, he finds himself recalculating the cost, reassessing the bargain. Watching the latest news, he finds himself thinking about all the corners cut, all the rules bent, all the regulations ignored. Did the drillers always have to plant themselves quite so securely in the driver’s seat? Could the government have put a somewhat firmer hand on the wheel every now and again?


Could the “free market” have been just a little bit less free? There might have been fewer billions in profits for the BPs and the Transoceans and the Halliburtons. The American engine might have coughed once or twice. But the shrimpers wouldn’t be out of work. The beachfront motels wouldn’t be standing empty. The barrier islands, already weakened, wouldn’t be facing destruction, with the fragile land behind them put at still greater risk.


He finds himself picking up the phone and offering assistance to a White House that needs all the help it can get right now. He finds himself calling in some chits, tapping hidden pools of expertise his years in the industry have made accessible to him as to few others.


He even finds himself offering public words of explanation, and expiation. As BP fails and fails again to stanch the flow, he finds himself describing the procedures, the risks, the difficulties, to an increasingly frustrated population in the Gulf region and elsewhere. If he’s feeling particularly generous (and if it’s true), he actually defends the current White House’s efforts as the best that can be done—the best that anyone can do—under these awful circumstances. And he pledges to support tighter rules, and real enforcement, so nothing like this ever happens again.


In my charitable moments, I picture Dick Cheney doing all these things.


Then I think again, and I say “Naaah.”


Dick Cheney is laughing his butt off.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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