June 5, 2006
Oil Is Not the ProblemBy Timothy Lennon Buckley
John Robinson is the sort of man whose views on matters scientific and environmental must be taken seriously. His conclusions on oil spills, based on long experience, do not comport with environmentalist orthodoxy, to say the least.
A member of Santa Barbara—based Heal The Ocean, John Robinson is a former engineer who's been assistant to Dell Hess, Director of Science for Manned Space Flight, and who worked 'for a little while' as an engineer for Chris Kraft, legendary NASA Flight Director at the Houston Space Center during the Apollo moon landings. John admits to also having done a 'little bit of work' for the U.S. Air Force in ballistic missiles as the space program was developing.
He left NASA. � Astronaut Alan Shepard hitting the golf ball on the moon, John says, was the last straw; he wanted 'to get back to real science' — and went to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where, he says understatedly, he 'got really involved in chemical accidents and oil spills.'
Robinson was not only the chief scientist for the U.S. government during the Exxon Valdez cleanup, he was also 'chief scientist for cleaning up Saddam Hussein's messes' after the first Gulf War. John says that he and his crew of about 120 'used to come to Santa Barbara often' over the twenty years he worked for NOAA. 'You've got the natural seeps offshore and we could practice on them,' he says.
'Practice what?' I asked him in a recent interview.
Robinson retired in 1994 and, remembering Santa Barbara, moved here. He met Hillary Hauser, founder of Heal The Ocean, through his relationship with a mutual friend, world—famous marine biologist and National Geographic 'explorer—in—residence' Sylvia Earle (John had worked for her for a couple of years). 'As soon as Heal The Ocean was formed,' Robinson says, 'I signed up. I think I'm their number—one member.'
The Dirty Truth About Cleaning Up After Exxon Valdez
My ears start buzzing when Robinson says, "I don't think oil is the problem many people think it is."
"Whoa, back up," I say.
The Solution is Worse than the Problem
Robinson explains that before they left the area his team convinced Alaska state authorities to set up nine locations that were not cleaned up, so they could monitor whatever long—term improvements were observed.
John, who attests to having been at 'many, many oil spills, maybe three or four hundred of them,' observes that, 'they are not the environmental problem that they are made out to be typically.' He says that in most cases, 'their effects are transient and there are no great long—term consequences.'
Robinson suggest that money spent on the type of problems Heal The Ocean is working on would be money better spent.
Robinson also notes that, as far as environmental impacts go,
The resulting environmental degradation of such intense activity in a pristine area like Prince William Sound, he suggests, need not have occurred if they had simply allowed nature, rather than man, to heal the ocean.
Perhaps the environmentalist movement needs to start heeding the advice Hippocrates gave to physicians in Classical Greece.
First, do no harm.