Muddying the Oil

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British Petroleum is about to try and plug the leak with a never-tried-at-this-depth procedure called a “top kill” which essentially dumps upwards of 50,000 barrels of drilling mud on top of the leak followed by cement to plug it permanently. You can watch this process live over the next two days here. The risks are that it might provoke cracks or ruptures elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in Washington the waters are getting muddied, or bloodied, in the blame game. House Energy & Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman is looking into exactly how this happened, and findingĀ this seems to have been a disaster waiting to happen. Waxman’s committee tomorrow is hearing from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and representatives from the Commerce Department, the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service. Today and tomorrow many of those same people, including MMS’s director S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, are appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee.

So far BP has blamed the rig operator Transocean. Most Dems have blamed BP and George W. Bush’s lax record on regulatory enforcement. Republicans have blamed Obama’s lax record on regulatory enforcement. They’re all right but that doesn’t solve anything.

So, what is being done beside a gi-normous mud plug? Officials are looking at how much they can recoop from BP — looks like it’s as much as $4,300 per barrel leaked — which means they need to actually figure out how many barrels were leaked. Good luck with that. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, has suggested closing the revolving door between regulating offshore drilling and working for the companies that do it. President Obama tomorrow will also hold a press conference to announce tough new offshore inspections. And there’s a number of investigations into what went wrong and how to prevent this from happening again. In the meantime, this pretty much shelves for years Obama’s plan to expand offshore drilling.

Winners? If you were looking for a job on the Gulf Coast there’s a lot more available now. Any one who sells stockings or hair.

Losers? The wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico including many endangered species like the manatee. People, like my parents, who’ve been trying to sell their place in Florida — one of the worst hit states in the mortgage crisis — for years. Who wants to vacation in or retire to a beach town slicked with oil? And, for that matter, pretty much the entire tourism industry stretching from Texas’s beaches to Miami.