EPA Warns of Oil Threat (1901)

Word has just reached Washington by telegraph that there has been a huge oil spill in Beaumont, Texas. An oil well was drilled on a dome known as Spindletop and oil is flowing unchecked from the well. There is wild speculation about the damage the oil is doing to the environment.

Initial reports say that 100,000 barrels of oil are spewing from the well in a 150-foot high gusher, with the oil raining back to earth uncollected. People and animals, as well as valued land, are being covered with the thick, black substance.

The head of the environmental protection agency has withheld her full views on this calamity, saying only that, “We will hold the people responsible for drilling this well. They will be held fully accountable. They will pay for all the damage done to the environment – and to our water supplies.”

Until now the EPA has been concerned about the horse manure accumulating in the big cities such as New York, where the manure is being shoveled into the Hudson River and stored in six-foot high piles on empty lots.

The Mayor of New York was hoping that the new horseless vehicle might stem the increasing amount of manure and urine being produced by the ever enlarging population of horses. He estimates there are nearly 200,000 horses in Brooklyn and New York, and that they produce over four million pounds of manure every day.

One well-known activist had warned of the horse problem and said that “each horse consumed the product of five acres of land, a footprint which could have produced enough food to feed six to eight people.”

The Mayor noted that there were sweepers at street corners who can sweep a path through the manure so people can cross the streets. He said, “These jobs will be lost if the horseless vehicle becomes prevalent, but citizens are tired of the stench – and flies, and filth caused by horses.”

He went on to say that the manure and urine turned to muck when it rained, but conditions were actually worse during dry weather when the muck dried out and turned to dust that was whipped up and down the streets by the wind, chocking pedestrians and coating buildings.

 “Thousands die each year from the diseases carried by the flies, but it’s hard to know exactly how many because of the deaths from heat in the summer and from food spoilage due to inadequate cooling from ice boxes.

The mayor went on to say, “Every day we must get rid of 40 or more dead horses that have been abandoned by their owners. Some of these are allowed to decay so they are easier to cut up and move. I get letters about the bloated, dead horse in the streets, yet there is little we can do about it. After all, a horse can weigh 1,300 pounds.”

Two days later In Washington, the head of the EPA spoke to reporters.

She was asking their papers to get the story out quickly and hasten delivery of the news across the country.

She said, “This is the worst environmental disaster in our history. The Spindletop has spewed at least 300,000 barrels of oil onto the land around the well.

“I have asked for treasury department agents to be sent to Texas to investigate who was responsible. We will identify those who were responsible and insist that they restore the land to the same condition it was before the oil spill. They will pay.

“I have been told it will take at least a week to stop the flow of oil. A million barrels of oil could be spilled before this disaster is brought under control.

 “The environment is too precious to allow this wanton, irresponsible drilling for oil to continue unchecked. Imagine what a million barrels of oil will do to the plants and animals – and to our water supply.”

One reporter asked, “Will this hurt the new horseless carriage industry?”

The answer recorded in the newspaper was, “No. After all, horseless carriages are only used in the cities and only travel six or seven miles during the day. There can’t be more than a few thousand – no more than six thousand – horseless carriages across the entire country.

“What concerns me is what happens when there are ten times that many?

“Then, people will probably forget about horse manure and how it affected living conditions in the cities. At that point we’ll turn our efforts to fighting the use of automobiles.”

Note: The article is based on events in 1901. The facts are correct, except that the EPA was not then in existence and the personages of the mayor and the head of the EPA are fictitious.

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