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May 18, 2010

Big Oil’s (Not So) Dirty Hands

Hans Deryk/Reuters
Hans Deryk/Reuters

We tend to think of oil as having relatively low viscosity, largely because most of us encounter it once it has been refined and readied for consumption.  But here we see it as the sludge that it becomes after floating about in the gulf for several days – a gloppy, brown, glutinous mess that resembles nothing so much as tar.  Notice how it clings to the protective rubber gloves and when it drips off it does so in globs that will attach to anything solid – rocks, sand, reefs, water reeds, marine life … what have you.  And there are plenty of other pictures that make the point.

What I find most striking about this photograph, however, are the hands.  These hands belong to a Greenpeace marine biologist testing the waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, but of course we can’t tell any of that from the picture itself.  Rather, what we can tell is that it will be impossible for any of us to keep our hands clean as we deal with the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

The image stands in stark contrast to another photograph that appeared this past week of the Presidents and chief spokesman for BP American, Transocean Limited, and Haliburton.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The smug expressions on their faces belie their efforts, against all credulity, to “deflect blame and responsibility for their respective companies.”  But notice their hands. Folded or resting on what is probably the transcript of their prepared statements, they suggest a uniformity of indifference, perhaps even a degree of nonchalance.  And note too that they are as clean as the white colors on their dress shirts.  The metaphor, of course, is rich and altogether ironic.  Or at least we can only hope so.  If the photograph at the top of the page is correct, the sludge from Deepwater Horizon will stick to everything it touches.  It would be a crime if Congress doesn’t make sure that these three all get their hands dirty too.

Cross-posted from No Caption Needed.

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