Oil spill – a perfect storm (update)
I’ve been watching this oil spill story develop over the weeks since the April 20th explosion and sinking of the BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
As an outspoken proponent of drilling for oil – both on-shore and off shore – I’ve watched happen what I had been convinced couldn’t happen. A deep water platform, with cutting edge technology, blew up and sank. A deep water well with the latest in blow-out prevention devices failed to function properly and stem the flow of oil from the well. An industry that had no contingency plan or equipment available to quickly cap such a leak. And the result has been an environmental problem that the industry all but claimed couldn’t happen.
All that’s extremely disappointing and causes me great concern. However, it doesn’t change the fact that oil is still critically important to our energy needs now and in the future, must be a part of any comprehensive energy strategy and must still be sought and recovered. Period. End of statement.
That said, the oil industry must seriously address what I’m sure most thought was unimaginable a few short weeks ago. Obviously blow-out prevention technology isn’t fail safe. Perhaps redundant systems are needed, or some easier method of manually addressing the failure of “automatic” systems, especially in deep water wells. This particular well is at around 5000 ft. meaning divers couldn’t be deployed. Robotic submersibles were unable to close the valves on the blow-out prevention device. While that’s bad, what perhaps bothered me more was the fact that there was no industry backup plan in case such a situation presented itself. They’re now fabricating a cap to put on the well and no one knows if that will work.
So this particular catastrophe’s continuance is on BP and the oil industry in general. It seems they may have believed their own press a little too much and were caught flat footed when the worst case scenario unfolded. Since BP is on the hook for paying for the clean up of this mess, not to mention losing a billion plus oil rig, I’m sure the lesson will be learned.
That brings me to the reaction by government to the growing disaster. It appears some lessons are never learned. Slow to realize the size, scope and impact of the disaster don’t even begin to describe its reaction. Certainly the Coast Guard has been on the problem almost from the beginning. But, acknowledging the Katrina comparisons being made, that was the case then as well. That doesn’t excuse the administration’s apparent lackadaisical response. It doesn’t explain why a 1994 plan for such a disaster wasn’t implemented quickly as it was designed to be (it involves fire booms to burn off the oil – and the oil, light, sweet crude is very amenable to burning). Had that been done, some experts believe the spill could have been contained soon after the accident.
It doesn’t explain why the EPA has taken almost 2 weeks to get involved or why the EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel “Bold” has yet to be deployed in support of the effort when it was in Miami, FL the 19th through the 23rd of April (OSV Bold has been deployed in the past to monitor and assist in other oil spills).
The White House is now in full spin mode and the modus operandi is the usual – blame others. Stipulated – BP is to blame for the leak. BP should pay for the damage it caused – all of it. BP is the cause of the problem and they acknowledge it. Got it.
Now – what has government, which we’re told is always the answer, done to protect our shores and waters from the disaster? Well, it is appearing that so far the effort hasn’t been particularly well run, successful or timely.
Just as interesting is how little the press is howling about it.
Bottom line, this disaster points to inadequacies on both sides of the problem. The oil industry needs to get its act together on this problem. And government has been no better now than it has in the past. I hold out some hope that the industry will learn from this disaster and do what is necessary to prevent it again. Given its history, I hold little hope that government will improve its performance. That said, it should be clear that it is up to industry to clean up its act since government seems inadequate to the job of cleaning up any mess industry makes (government will hold hearings, of course, and spout off about needing more regulation). What shouldn’t end up being an option though is the abandonment of off-shore drilling.
UPDATE: Nice – the usual blame targets again emerge. Huge surprise.