Free Markets, Free People

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.



20 Responses to Oil spill – a perfect storm (update)

  • The timing of the whole affair still troubles me.

  • The comparison I keep thinking of is to HMS Titanic.
    There was the arrogance of the engineers – or idealism, or confidence, whatever you choose to call it – in thinking that disaster could not happen.
    Then the disaster happened.
    Now we just gather together – people, companies, governments – to fix it as best we can, while using our R&R time to speculate and fix blame.
    The key here is to realize that no matter what people may say in their indignation or desire to get on TV, we do NOT kill the drilling industry. We carry on, sadder and wiser. We learn and improve.
    After all – the sinking of the Titanic did not mean an end to the Cruise Ship business, did it?

  • Forget Offshore Drilling Until We Get Some Answers

    Forget Selling Mortgages Until We Get Some Answers
    Forget Electing Democrats Until We Get Some Answers

    Yeah … that’s the ticket

  • McQIt 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).

    Forget why the booms weren’t used: why do we not have them available as (apparently) is required by law???

    Shades of Katrina / NOLA again: Uncle Sugar spends billions of dollars, yet the money never quite seems to make it to where it’s needed or even intended, and so a disaster strikes that might have been avoided or at least mitigated.  It seems that an enterprising reporter / news agency might look into this story and find out why the booms aren’t available – AND IF MONEY WAS APPROPRIATED FOR THEM BUT DISAPPEARED – but I’m guessing that this won’t happen because (A) it requires actual work beyond hammering the keys of a word processor and (B) it can’t easily be blamed solely on Bush.

    As for the government’s slow response, I suggest that it’s a question of size and bureaucratic inertia: when so many agencies have at least SOME responsibility, there are lots and lots of bureaucrats who can plausibly say, “That’s not our responsibility”, “We were waiting for X to do Y first”, and “We never got any orders at all” (e.g. the master of the OSV Bold). 

    But what am I saying???  As we learned from Katrina, the government should ALWAYS act IMMEDIATELY with overwhelming efficiency, with the president taking PERSONAL responsibility for everything; he shouldn’t allow himself even a few moments to sort himself out before springing into action.

    / sarc

    That Bush was held to a much higher standard than Imeme tells me two things:

    1.  Massive bias in MiniTru

    2.  Everybody knows that it’s completely unreasonable to expect quick, decisive action from Imeme when the good of the country is concerned.  He has consistently demonstrated himself to be an arrogant, incompetent fool who’s surrounded himself with political hacks (Axelrod, Emmanuel) and morons (Biden, Napolitano), and so it’s just not in the cards that he’ll ever make a good decision with any speed.  Hell, does he even realize that Middle Tennessee is experiencing disastrous flooding?  Or does he not golf down there and hence can’t even find it on a map?

    • Flashlight – check
      Map – check
      Ability to find ass?  – uh, Houston?…..we have a problem….

  • I think we all know the true culprit *wink*

    • Yes, it’s a 9/11 truther moment that I’ve been trying to avoid contemplating, trust Rush not to avoid just contemplating it, but saying it out loud and suggesting it – reminds one of Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t it Tom?

  • Holy sh*t!  Politico has the nerve to report that the spill “is threatening President Barack Obama’s reputation for competence”! 


    But wait!  It gets better:

    Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term. [emphasis mine – dj505]

    But what does the Politico piece reveal about how the administration has handled this problem?  Frankly, nothing surprising to anybody who didn’t buy into the myth of Imeme’s “cool competence”.  We see worry about the POLITICALaspects of the problem, and the usual concern that – goshdarnit! – they just weren’t effective at getting their message out:

    [C]onversations at the time of the spill on April 20 show that West Wing aides were worried about the rig tragedy from the moment it was reported. Even before the scope of the disaster was clear, these aides knew that it would undermine, if not reverse, Obama’s support for increased offshore oil drilling.

    But even supporters acknowledge the White House didn’t convey that sense of concern to the public.

    They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,” an outside White House adviser said… [emphasis mine – dj505]

    But I come back to the “reputation for competence”.  WHAT reputation???  WHAT competence???  It seems to me that anybody with the advantages he has (bully pulpit, majorities in both houses of Congress, MiniTru) would be AT LEAST as successful as he’s been (which hasn’t been much).  It’s amazing to me that people persist in believing things about Imeme without evidence, and indeed that violate common sense: that he’s educated, intelligent, thoughtful, a uniter, competent, a masterful speaker, etc.   Pathetic.

  • The only answer is that the White House, FEMA, the EPA and everybody else was hoping Forrest Gump would do it

  • Yesterday I argued in my blog that risk is a part of every aspect of life.   There is always risk of a nuclear meltdown at a nuclear plant, or a spill like this from an oil rig.   And if we stopped drilling for oil off shore, there is a risk of global depression due to high oil prices which could lead to even more harm.   And for all the complaints about growing government, risk aversion is one reason we give the government so much power.    This reminds us that there is risk in everything.   The fact that a low probability event happened is not surprising, but it also does not mean that we should stop off shore drilling.

    • Good, remember that the next time we discuss global warming and the ‘risks’ appertaining there unto.
      However, we all know very well this will curtail further discussion of off shore drilling expansion for the near to mid term until they monkey up new laws to ‘protect us’ from all the risks which will of course, provably,  do no such thing.

    • A logical view, you occasionally have those, But there are a lot of people who simply would not care if gasoline prices rose to $8.00 a gallon and we went into a full blown depression, they would just blame it on “greed”.
      Those people, unfortunately are now in control of our country, (if not full control, they have a huge influence)

      • I don’t know…Obama seems to have a pragmatic view on both off shore drilling and nuclear energy.   Hopefully this won’t change that.

  • Uhh BP COO just said that BP is not responsible on the daily show last nite……

  • – The count so far is about 3 million gallons of oil has been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. So just the cost of the oil wasted is about $6,000,000. The cost to our coastlines, our economy, our national security rises every day this continues. So including the average cost estimates of the clean up rapidly approaching 4 billion dollars – that means the tally is 14 eSolar type plants could be built and provide power to 56,000 homes

  • Surprise … surprise … surprise

    During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.

  • i wonder if palin will be saying “welfare baby welfare” for all the people who make their living offa the coast.

  • I’m going two ways on this one Bruce.
    Either this disaster hastens the fall of Capitalism, and all is unfolding as it should. (Cloward – Piven)
    Or Barry  (The Man-child) is totally out of his depth.