The Muse

I found Clio in her cave, high above the Aegean Sea. She looked up from the scroll she was writing when I entered; dozens of other scrolls lay half-unrolled, perched on rocks or unwinding across the floor.

“The technology, of course is unprecedented,” she said, knowing already what subject I’d come to discuss, “The other aspects, well…” She gestured toward the piles of parchment. “I’ve seen it all before.”

Clearly, she was happy to have company. “I have so few visitors anymore. I thought Mr. Santayana’s comment would help, but it was about then that things really started to get quiet. The Romans used to come all the time. This place was practically empty in those days. Now my dad has to double the size of the cave every 18 months and I still can’t keep up.”

“But I’m sorry, you came to ask about the oil spill,” Clio said.

“The president has appointed a commission to study what went wrong,” I said. She smiled and pointed to a heap of scrolls. “Those are the commission reports I haven’t gotten around to filing yet.”

“The thing is,” I said, “the commission hasn’t even met yet and everyone’s arguing over when we’ll start drilling in deep water again. People are filing lawsuits, the president’s people keep saying ‘This is a pause, not a stop,’ but we don’t know how – or if, even – we can figure out how to drill safely in deep water.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Clio said, pulling out a copy of yesterday’s New York Times. She shrugged. “I still get cave delivery of the print edition.” She pointed to a story about a BP drill rig off the north coast of Alaska that federal regulators are not considering “offshore” because it sits on a 31-acre gravel island built by BP. The rig, one of the most powerful ever built, is supposed to drill down two miles, then horizontally for six to eight miles to tap a reservoir of oil. This type of drilling has never before been attempted.

“Like I said, unprecedented technology, but get this,” Clio said, “The feds let BP write its own environmental review. This, from the same company that in 2006 caused the largest oil spill ever on the North Slope. That spill was caused because BP failed to run maintenance on its pipeline. According to the Times, the oil from this new well will pass through a pipeline that federal regulators say has not been properly maintained. But, nooo, oh no, it’s gonna be different this time. Yeah, right.”

Clio was clearly agitated. “Better still, this type of horizontal drilling is expected to create substantial gas kicks – y’know, like the one that blew out the Deepwater Horizon? But don’t worry, it’s BP, the company with the worst safety and environmental record in history. But what would I know about history?”

Tossing the newspaper aside, she stood and walked to the entrance to the cave. “Look at that water,” she said. “I’m lucky to live where I live.” She rolled her eyes. “OK, I know the Aegean is not nearly as pristine as it was when I moved here but at least there are no plumes of oil suffocating all the marine life and yes, the Greek financial regulators could easily compete with the Minerals Management Service for the gold medal in obtuseness.”

“History is not just a list of discrete facts,” she said. “There are trends, too. Your young nation has fought three resource wars in the past 20 years, where do you think that’s heading? My sister, Urania, has been whispering in the ears of planetary scientists for years about the effects of burning oil, but no one listens to them either.”

“Earl Long took credit for this, but it was I who told it to him 50 years ago,” Clio said. “You can only judge the future by the past.”

© Mark Floegel. 2010

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