How the Oil Industry is Like Donald Trump

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By Anne Rolfes, Founding Director

This election season has driven me to vary my reading habits. I now read columnists like George Will for conservative perspectives on Donald Trump.  In an August column, Mr. Will’s description of Donald Trump sounded similar to operations in Louisiana (and around the globe).

Mr. Will offered the concept of Immunity through Profusion, an idea that he adapted from political corruption in New York City and Chicago. Here’s his description of those times:

“Fresh scandals arrived with metronomic regularity, so there was no time to concentrate on any of them. The public, bewildered by blitzkriegs of bad behavior, was enervated.”

George Will was making that point that Trump gets away with his scandals precisely because there are so many.  Just like the oil industry.

Oil industry accidents are one example of profusion. This week the Louisiana Bucket Brigade collaborated with DisasterMap.net to release this map of petrochemical accidents from October 7 – 20th. The National Response Center received approximately 41 reports of oil industry accidents during these two weeks. That’s an average of three per day.

Equipment failure was a common cause of the accidents. The reports provide a window into an industry with a significant infrastructure problem, citing “mechanical problems, faulty pipe, leaking valve, faulty pressure relief valve, ruptured hose, leak on a flow line, crack on a line.” 

One of the reports was a harrowing reminder of the BP Disaster. “A line was cut on the blow out preventer resulting in a spill of a chemical to the water.” This happened 4,000 feet below the surface. 

In case you don’t remember, a failed blowout preventer was one of the culprits in the BP Disaster. A Wall Street Journal story summed it up this way in a 2014 story: “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Linked to Failed Blowout Preventer.”

We have no way of knowing the status of this blowout preventer. The report says that the Suspected Responsible Party (National Response Center terminology) was Pacific Drilling. We have a little more information, however, about some of the other reports, including those filed about Taylor Energy.

If there is an Immunity through Profusion award, it goes to Phyllis Taylor, CEO of Taylor Energy. Taylor has had a leaking well in our Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast 12 years ago, even before Hurricane Katrina. And yet Taylor Energy is citing that hurricane as the cause of its ongoing leak. In a report on October 19th, the company is the Suspected Responsible Party for a 23-square mile sheen.

George Will wrote of an enervated public that no longer reacted to the scandals. Perhaps that’s why Phyllis Taylor is a celebrated member of New Orleans’ high society and a former board chair of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. She donates her funds to worthy causes, but it’s hard not to connect the dots between the money she makes and her failure to fix that rig. I do not travel in Ms. Taylor’s circles, but I imagine she is rarely confronted about her company’s ongoing, egregious destruction in the Gulf of Mexico.

Enervation about the Taylor accidents are not the only example of accident overload. When I sent the prior report numbers to our local press – 94 petrochemical accidents in three weeks - one member of the New Orleans media (whose outlet gets funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation) responded with this:

“I do not see it as a daily news story.” 

And so Immunity through Profusion takes hold in the press.

With Donald Trump, it’s not just one thing. It isn’t just the groping and sexual assault. It’s not just the failure to pay income taxes or the racism he exhibits when he assumes all African Americans live in the inner city. It’s one thing after another: mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Muslim family, lying about charitable donations, starting conspiracies about a rigged election. It never ends. Profusion.

And so it is with the oil industry. Its greatest hits in Louisiana include the destruction of our coast (and subsequent refusal to pay for it), the largest tank fire in world history (caused by a faulty drain on a tank), the  million gallon Murphy oil spill during Hurricane Katrina (that could have been prevented), dozens of offshore spills during Katrina, an average of eight refinery accidents a week,  the BP Disaster and the thousands of spills that happen every year in our Gulf of Mexico, those that are so frequent that even the smartest of reporters can no longer see it as a news story – daily or otherwise.

Immunity through Profusion. Who pays the price? We all do, but people who live nearest the oil industry pay the most, as this call to our iWitness Pollution Map on October 15th shows.

“The odor returned Saturday evening around 8 p.m. and again, it permeated the house. This time, my children were coughing and my husband and I woke up with headaches.”

Donald Trump has lately been quiet. No three a.m. Twitter tantrums, no insults against a former Miss Universe or woman he’s groped. It’s been a calm few weeks.

That’s more than we can say for the oil industry. Every day there are accidents. Every day they refuse to pay for coastal destruction. Every day people are harmed. 

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