Patt Morrison | KPCC's home for all things Patt Morrison.

Oil may be black gold, but today it's black tears, too

Aaaand … that’s why they call it ‘’news.’’

Just like in those movies where the reporters get to say, ``Breaking news just in … ,” we were in the middle of the program when word came that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing a 180 worthy of the Terminator’s prodigious super-skills: there will be no new oil drilling off the California coast, because of the devastating big Gulf of Mexico oil spill. [At least not as long as he’s in office, which is until December.]

It was timely because we spent a half-hour on exactly that subject -- specifically, the economic, technological and environmental consequences, and the regulatory questions being raised in the wake of the BP blowout.

[Pop culture bonus: I even got to mention ‘’The Pelican Brief,’’ the huge-selling John Grisham novel whose plot began with the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices to benefit an oilman who wants to drill in protected Louisiana habitat.]

My guests went into the particulars of the Gulf Coast economy and the sometimes conflicting priorities of fishing and wildlife -- which need clean water to thrive -- and oil drilling --which is one of those safe-until-it-completely-and-totally-messes-up industries.

It all became clearer thanks to David Yoskowitz at Texas A&M, and Tyler Priest at the University of Houston, who’s also on the scientific advisory committee for the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. Priest walked us through a lot of development history and regulatory issues about offshore oil and gas development, as well as the move to voluntary regulation in some parts of that business.

BP says it’ll take ‘’responsibility’’ for this, but ``blame’’ is another matter. One of the obstacles to figuring out what happened is a consequence of the ``layering’’ of such operations. BP leases the oil rig operation from one company, and other specialized companies handle other aspects of the business. This is not the ‘’vertical integration’’ model where a single company runs every aspect of a business, from raw materials to distribution.

Halliburton, the controversial international company that former Vice President Dick Cheney once headed, was responsible for cementing the rig’s deep-water drill hole, and the LA Times says investigators are looking there for clues to the failure. halliburton

Los Angeles Democrat Henry Waxman heads the Energy and Commerce Committee that’s looking into all this, and you’ll be hearing from him here later this week.

Me, I can’t think of this in terms of gallons spilled, but in terms of human lives devastated, the fishermen and the others who make their living on the waters, and the animal lives lost if and when this massive oil slick makes landfall: birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, fish, and the few scraps of habitat that human development has left to them – and even that now imperiled.

If you hear me choking up on the radio as I talk about this, now you know why.

On Tuesday, light those candles! It's happy birthday to The Pill. The birth control turns 50, and Gloria Steinem’s here to talk about the revolution in human history that it represents. Did it revolutionize your life? So pick up the phone and say so!