Obama’s Oval Office address on the BP Oil Spill was amazing dissapointing.

The phrase, “This is the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States” is buried under weak defenses and excuses for spending millions cleaning up a disaster that doesn’t just reflect a completely corrupt energy policy but also a national crisis in lifestyle.  I’m sorry, but putting a six month moratoriam on deepwater drilling (with the exception, or course, of the unexplained “relief well” that BP is currently drilling to stop the leak) means jack shit to me.  It’s time to talk about what this spill actually means, and how the sheen of oil on the gulf reflects back to each and every one of our lives and daily choices.

Addressing the “failed philosophy” that oil companies can write their own regulations is clearly important (the idea that any industry can be it’s own regulator is a failure to begin with), but how about the “failed philosophy” that US citizens can burn as much oil as they want, whether it’s in their SUVs or heating or plastic food packaging?

Maybe I am just an economic skeptic in general, but I fail to see how ensuring that BP pays for all the cleanup and creating a third-party managed fund will sufficiently reverse the damage of 60,000 barrels of oil a day leaking into our oceans for months.  That is not an economic disaster.  Nor is it an environmental disaster.  It is a LIFE disaster, one that we should be addressing not just economically and environmentally but with changes in our LIVES!!!

Nicaraguans know disasters.  They know catastrophes.  When Hurricane Mitch came through over 800,000 Nicaraguans lost their lives and land, cattle and immeasurable amounts of wildlife were lost, and all told estimated damages total over US$300 million.  I still talk to farmers who have never recuperated their land, who show me rivers that have changed their course completely, and boulders on their land that weren’t there before.  After a hurricane, where is the private company to blame, to force to pay damages?  That is the most shamefull, unspoken truth about this environmental catastrophe.  We have made this disaster.  We have something to blame, but it’s not just an oil company, it’s ourselves.

That’s why in addition to addressing the dire situation of tribal fisherman and endangered pelegrine flocks we should be making widesweeping changes in our daily lives.  If Obama really wants to promote hope and change he should be talking about about movements like the statewide ban on plastic bags and successfull local food movements that greatly reduce food miles and plastic food packaging.  Plastic and oil are not evil – they have their medical, safety, and technology uses that have become indespensiple to our society.  But at the risk of destroying ourselves completely, why can we not make every effort to cut out the waste!

Is it too much to ask that our political and economic leaders can dip into morals and ethics as well?  We DO need to rewire our countries energy system so that it is connected to renewable sources of energy, but we also need to rewire ourselves, so that we think twice before carelessly throwing out over 1,675 lbs of garbage per year per person!  And that doesn’t count the barrels of oil that each of us are responsible for wasting daily.  We do need the commitees to look into the lies and conflicts of interest that led to the BP disaster, but we also need to realize that our current petroleum centered lifestyle is itself a lie and a conflict of interest.

…and six more wells being better dug.

Last week was all about wells.

On Nick’s land, a contact I made over a year ago here in León dug a 45 meter well using a low-impact drilling system he has developed with some Dutch engineers.  The system requires a low cost investment (~US$3,000), which allowed him to open his own business, and he empoloys three steady workers.  The finished well is a 4 inch PVC tube with a sand and gravel filter, that has a maximum capacity of providing 65 gallons water/minute (if you install the right pump).  It cost $40 a meter plus the small concrete base that protects the tube and the tank we had to rent from the neighbor to haul water for the drilling.

Roger’s company, Perfor, has perfected this system of manual drilling.  The finished well is more reliable than the artesenal dug well because it perforates the aquifer rather than relying on surface water that fluctuates with rainfall, and is also less likely to become polluted (or become a pollutant for neighboring wells) because of its narrow opening.  The hitch is that because in this perforation system the down pressure is only gravity (the steel tubes are dropped into the opening) and the torque is man powered, wells can only be dug in sand or gravel sediments, not through rock.  Luckily, León has perfect sandy volcanic rockless soil for at least the first 44 meters.

Nick and Brigido at the finished well.

We chose the spot to dig several weeks ago with the help of a friend and douser, Brigido.  Hilariously, even though Roger says he doesn’t believe in dousing, the well was put on the spot that Brigido chose and results we exactly as he predicted.  Roger hit water at 21 meters, no problem.

The finished well is just the tube with the concrete base.  There isn’t anyone living on the land yet, so it’s unwise to install a pump just now (even the fence posts walk away when there’s no one watching!).  Now that there is water though, Nick can build a small house for a cuidador and start building the community he’s been dreaming of.

Meanwhile, I was travelling up to Villa Nueva, three hours north of León, where I am coordinating a small project to improve the water situation in the La Pacayra community.  Working with a very tight budget, I found an organization willing to lend us a jackhammer, the community borrowed a generator from the mayors office, and we were  ready to begin deepening 6 wells that were drying up.

The process is time consuming and required a few more folks than Roger’s team.  When we started at the first house, four men from the community and a handful of neighbors and children gathered around, watching the process and helping to haul workers, rubble, and tools in and out of the well all day long.  First the jackhammer, then the worker to power it.  After a half hour, the worker comes up and then the jackhammer.  A helper goes down, then a bucket, which is loaded up with rubble and mud as many times as necessary until the well is cleaned and the jackhammering can begin again.

The first well started at 12 meters and was in hard rock.  In two days the jackhammer only advanced 20 centimeters, but the currents of water streaming out increased and by the second day the well had to be bucketed dry every half hour in order for the jackhammer to continue working properly.  Hopefully Rosa Emilia will notice a difference now, and will have sufficient water in the coming summer to continue irrigating her vegetable patch and also not need to go to the river to wash clothes.

The bottom of the well.

Watching only men go down to work or clean out the water, I decided to see what it was like at the bottom of a 12 meter well.  All the women present said they were scared to go down, although they were fine sending their 10 year old sons down to fill up buckets with rubble.  I finally convinced them that if a little kid could fill a bucket than I could as well.  A group of neighbors watched with raised eyebrows as first Nick and then I were lowered down with the pully to the bottom of the well.

There is no fresh air at the bottom of a well.  It is hot, hotter than the 90% weather outside the well, and you can feel the increased air pressure.  All I had charged myself with doing was filling a few buckets with rubble and muddy water – not working with the spike and mallet that the men used to break more rock free while the jackhammer worker was resting.  I filled three buckets with water and rubble and then emerged, exhausted and sweaty.  I pride myself here on being fit, and enjoying the hard physical work that farming and rural life entails.  One trip down to the bottom of the well helped me to understand why helping this community to improve these wells is so important.  It’s work that these people know well, but it’s hard work.  Just by offering to cover the wage for one paid worker and gasoline for the generator I can be the catalyst for a community work force, and make an taxing job into a special day.

The goal in the community is to deepen six wells.  Unlike the well on Nick’s land, these wells are between 12 and 20 meters deep.  Only one is in sandy soil, the others are hard rock that would not be able to be perforated by Roger’s drilling system.  Instead of $40 per meter, there are more than 40 man hours logged per meter advanced.  Something to think about when you turn on the tap and water flows out.

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