- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2010

While millions of gallons of oil flow into the Gulf, oil skimmers from many countries are sitting on the sidelines. This includes the world’s largest, known as A Whale. The enormous Taiwanese skimmer is as long as three-and-a-half football fields and can collect 500,000 barrels of oily water a day. Such equipment could make a big difference, considering the highest estimates are that 100,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf each day.

Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, told The Washington Times 13 days ago that A Whale can’t start operating until its effectiveness as a skimmer is tested. The vessel’s operators submitted documents describing how it works on June 4, but the Coast Guard has yet to certify it. After being tested last week, the ship remains anchored awaiting additional testing. Lt. Cmdr. O'Neil said, before hitting the high seas, A Whale must first meet the American Society for Testing and Materials‘ (ASTM) standards.

The problem is, the Coast Guard isn’t using the ASTM standard. As Peter Lane, chairman of the panel that develops ASTM regulations, told us, government standards are based on the ratio of oil to water taken in by the skimmer. He argues the most sensible measure would instead be how much oil is taken out from the water. Current rules, developed in 1990, are in desperate need of updating to be relevant to today’s crisis.

Significant delays are caused by bureaucrats making sure their rear ends are covered. They are afraid to try something that might not work, thus incurring costs without any benefits. As explained by Lt. Cmdr. O'Neil, “The point is, that’s money that should be spent for something that is effective as opposed to something that’s less effective.” The end result, however, is that bureaucratic inaction is keeping skimmers from being used while evermore damage occurs in the Gulf.

Mr. Lane is also critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “ridiculous” concerns that seawater returned to the Gulf might have traces of oil. This approach, normally applied to minimize factory discharges into rivers, limits the technology that can be used to clean up a major spill. Multiple requests for comment from the EPA and the Unified Command for the Deepwater Horizon Response have gone unanswered.

The environment, wildlife and those who live in the Gulf region are paying the price while the Obama administration dithers.