Free Markets, Free People

top kill


Oil spill – reshuffling the PR deck

Since hopping out in front of the cameras, thinking the top kill had worked and claiming that the administration has been in charge of the effort from “day one,” things have gone down hill for President Obama. As it turns out the top kill effort was unsuccessful. And, as the Washington Post tells us today, now the effort is to distance the administration from the oil company is supposedly was directing to do its bidding:

Struggling to convey command of the worsening Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Obama administration is taking steps to distance itself from BP and is dispatching Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to the Gulf Coast to meet with federal and state prosecutors. The Holder trip could signal that the environmental calamity might become the subject of a criminal investigation.

Holder has said Justice Department lawyers are examining whether there was any “malfeasance” related to the leaking oil well, and investigators, who have already been on the coast for a month, have sent letters to BP instructing the company to preserve internal records related to the spill. But federal officials indicated that Holder’s trip, which will include a news conference in New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon, will focus on enforcement of environmental laws and holding BP accountable.

The opening of a criminal investigation or civil action against BP, if either were to happen, would create the unusual situation of the federal government weighing charges against a company that it is simultaneously depending on for the most critical elements of the response to the record oil spill.

Usually, if there is a possibility of a criminal investigation and charges in a situation like this, they are kept in abeyance until there’s some resolution to the problem. But in this case, desparate for something which will cast the administration in a favorable light, it appears this is the chosen method. Holder’s news conference will be a welcome distraction from the constant “but what are you doing to stop the leak” questions the administration gets.

That’s the act of symbolic separation.

Step two is to physically separate the administration from the bad guys BP.

The relationship between the federal government and the oil company has been an awkward collaboration all along — “We have them by the neck,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said of BP in congressional testimony last week — but it reached a turning point Monday when the administration said it no longer wants to share a podium with BP at the daily briefing in Louisiana. Instead, the national incident commander, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, will give a solo briefing wherever he happens to be.

It is a “we’re still in command, but it is an arm’s length, hold-your-nose, we’re forced to work with these people, command.” The perfect setup for something this administration is actually quite good at – demonization.

As for the spill itself, the next step is in contention. Apparently Carl Browner, the head of the EPA has become an expert in fluid dynamics and underwater blowout prevention:

The administration and BP have disagreed over whether the company’s next maneuver would cause a temporary increase in the flow of oil into the gulf. In the coming days, BP plans to saw off the top of the leaking riser pipe where it emerges from the blowout preventer that sits on the well. BP will then lower a containment dome, or cap, onto the riser in an attempt to capture the leaking oil. White House official Carol M. Browner said Sunday that after the pipe is cut, about 20 percent more oil would probably escape before the new cap is in place. BP officials said that they think that is unlikely and that there might be no significant change in the flow.

I’m not sure where she gets the idea that cutting the riser will allow a 20% increase in the flow. They’re cutting it, not removing it. It will still be there with the same diameter it’s always had, it’ll just be shorter so they can deal with it better.

The salient point, of course, is like it or not, the administration is stuck with BP, both in the plugging of the leak and in the clean up effort. And frankly, they wouldn’t have it any other way – this is the company that will be blamed for every failing of the administration. Note I said failing of the administration – it has a role and a duty in this disaster. What it is going to do, or at least attempt to do with this distancing, is to lay all blame on BP from this point on.

Holder’s trip to the Gulf is only the opening salvo.

~McQ


Top Kill fails

Well it looks like I was a little premature, and I should have known better than to believe an LA Times story.

Live and learn.

The bottom line is that everyone, to include the President and a whole host of politicians (and me) thought the deep water oil leak had been plugged.

In the most serious setback yet in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a news conference that the engineers would try once again to solve the problem with a containment valve and that it could take four to seven days for the device to be in place.

“After three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said.

Apparently the pressure of the escaping oil and gas was just too powerful to overcome and the disaster in the Gulf continues. BP’s next option is apparently a variation on the containment dome option they tried previously.

The new strategy is to smoothly cut the riser that the oil is leaking from and then place a cap. Pipes attached to the cap would then take the oil to a storage boat waiting at the surface.An effort at a containment dome was tried earlier this month, but failed when gases escaping from the oil, froze and blocked the pipe. Mr. Suttles said, however, that BP had learned from that experience and now believed that this cap, which is custom fitted to the riser, will be more successful.

Let’s hope they’ve figured out a way to prevent the causes of the failure the last time they tried to use a dome.

Option 2 is to attach another blowout preventer to the non-functioning one already at the wellhead.

If that doesn’t work, we’re most likely looking at a relief well (which will definitely stop the leak) sometime in August.

August.

If that’s true it is fair to say that Obama and his daughter will be having a few more bathroom conversations and that “plug the hole” failed.

In all seriousness though, this presents a big problem for the administration. Thinking they were past the leak and faced only with the clean up (a daunting problem, but not as visible as the leak), most of the building criticism of the way the President and his administration had handled the leak was subsiding. And, the President made an late PR effort by visiting the LA coast to blunt further criticism before heading to Chicago for the Memorial Day weekend.

All for naught now. Per the NY Times:

The latest failure will undoubtedly put more pressure — both politically and from the public — on the Obama administration to take some sort of action, perhaps taking control of the repair effort completely from BP — and increase the public outcry.

And what do we get from the Prez?

“It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking,” Mr. Obama said in a statement, “and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole.”

Manmade disaster? Wait I thought that’s what we were calling terrorism now. It’s all so confusing. As for the statement from Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected – a little over-dramatic maybe? All a part of keeping their boot foot on the neck of BP one supposes. In the meantime, the rest of us hope and pray that the “next option” BP tries succeeds. And we also have to hope that the government won’t “push BP out of the way and take over” or we’ll be out of options.

~McQ