Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts On The BP Oil Crisis

First of all, I am sick of it being called an "oil spill". It is not a "spill", it is a "leak" or a "spew" or a "gusher" or an "out of control uncapped oil well"; to constantly call it a "spill" is to harken back to the Exxon Valdez and other accidents wherein certain legal precedents were set, but this is a different situation entirely and needs to be looked at with fresh, unbiased eyes. (And using the right words instead of common "sound bites" is always being on the side of truth instead of manipulation.)

Second, I am sick of everybody saying "BP did this," and "BP did that". BP is a huge corporation (a legal creation on paper, actually), comprised of hundreds of employees, including board members, officers, managers, clerks, and every other type of occupation. What caused the explosion was a combination of decisions made by INDIVIDUAL workers on the job. It was a DRILLING SUPERVISOR who decided that chunks of rubber coming up out of the riser (which ended up being pieces of a damaged rubber ring that is one of three stopper methods used to temporarily cap off the well) weren't a problem enough to delay the operation, an operation that already had cost BP close to 30 million dollars, I think it was, in losses due to problems and delays in the drilling of the well (leasing the Deepwater Horizon costs a million dollars a day). Secondly, it was a BP MANAGER (again, an individual person) who overrode the Deepwater Horizon's method of filling the well with "mud" (a thick, heavy liquid substance which has weight that applies downward pressure to counteract the upward pressure of any gas or oil that seeks to escape from a well), which was the second of three capping-off methods, in the interest of making it more convenient and quick for the extraction platform that was going to come in afterwards (Deepwater Horizon is a drilling platform; after they drill, they cap off the well and move on to drill elsewhere while another platform comes to connect with the well and pump out the oil). So now we have two individuals making time and cost-saving decisions that compromised the safety of the operation and effectively eliminated two out of the three methods used to safely close off a well. The third method is the concrete cores that Halliburton installed. I do not have much information on that piece, except that I did hear that some manager at BP counteracted Haliburton's procedure in some way which compromised that, as well (used fewer cores, maybe, to plug up the well?). To hear how this whole thing is being treated, it was as if the Board of Directors themselves issued a policy of "safety features be damned, full speed ahead," you know, due to "greed" and all that, when really, again, it was individual workers on the scene making risky (and wrong) decisions, which can, and does, happen any and everywhere (such as the railroad engineer in Southern California who was text messaging just before having a head-on collision with another train). Perhaps BP "policy" can be blamed for putting on that pressure to hurry? But who has a job where THAT doesn't exist? (Why have I been putting in 12-hour work days for the past four months? Fortunately, I just work at a school instead of drilling the deepest underwater oil well in human history.)

This is NO DIFFERENT from the Challenger space shuttle explosion, where engineers warned that due to unseasonably cold temperatures in Florida that the rubber in the O-rings might have been compromised, but management at NASA refused to delay the launch due to fear of bad public relations and damage to their carefully drawn-out schedule (a delay in launch probably also costs money). This was a decision to "chance it", since they really didn't KNOW what the o-rings would, or would not do. The drilling supervisor on the Deepwater Horizon didn't actually KNOW that the annular ring was totally damaged, nor did the BP Manager KNOW that the pressure from the well would be too great to contain the methane gas without the weight of the "mud"; these men only knew that many millions of dollars had been "wasted" already and they wanted to hurry up and get this well capped off so that the pumping rig could then move in (maybe in a few hours?) and start extracting this oil.

I don't remember there being cries that NASA ought to be drawn and quartered because of this managerial decision to launch the space shuttle against engineering recommendations to not launch. Why? Because NASA is the GOVERNMENT whereas BP is a corporation; to liberals, GOVERNMENT is supposed to be the solution to these problems, yet always, it is individual working people who make the decisions whether they are working for the government or for a corporation. So, the very force that liberals want to use to regulate errors such as made by individuals working for a corporation (BP), were the actual forces that caused the Space Shuttle explosion (workers for NASA). So, increased government control is not the answer. Deepwater Horizon had the best safety record of any drilling facility out there (seven years without an injury or accident), yet the risk-taking decisions of a small handful of workers in a moment counteracted that great safety record and caused the greatest ecological disaster in history. But this is not "BP". It is a laborer for Deepwater Horizon and a mid-level manager for BP. It could be someone like us in some other setting.

"Corny" as it may seem, I feel like saying to all those screaming congressmen and liberals and environmentalists, "Let he who has never been involved in an accident or made a bad decision throw the first stone." Everybody else is just working to satisfy their agenda, which is to "destroy the petroleum industry" and "increase government control over all aspects of life." Sounds good to some level of idealist, but I see they're all still driving cars....

I will probably be vilified for my comments here, but I care about the environment just as much as anybody else does and I detest what happened and mourn the loss of life in whatever form it comes in, and I can't stand the thought of beautiful white Gulf beaches turned gray. But my grief over this situation does not make me succumb to regular "ten-minute sessions of hate" as if I lived in Oceania in 1984. My whole orientation is more "what exactly happened, what can we do to make sure it never happens again, and what can we do now that it HAS happened?" (This, of course, will never happen with a government commission, such as the one that Obama has already assembled of environmentalists and others who have already said that their agenda is to socialize the energy industry.) Looking to find who to blame and brand them as "evil" (members of the Board of Directors?) and spend all our time screaming at them and thinking of ways to punish them is simply medieval and really, not of much practical use to anybody.


Longboardjeff said...

The first thing that caught my attention was your mention of the use of the word "spill". I, too, have made that one of my new pet peeves. No, this is not a spill. What really bothers me is how the nightly news TV stations show this well disgorging oil at the rate of tens of thousands of barrels per day, and we have yet to be given an HONEST, good faith estimate as to how much oil is actually being discharged into the environment. As recently as yesterday I heard that a best case estimate on how long it will take for the Gulf to return to normal (sea life, beaches, wetlands, etc.) is 25 years. I think that's optimistic. Personally, I don't think it will return to normal in my lifetime. We'll simply lose interest in it as it becomes old news, just like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We've spent too much time finger-pointing. There's too much "Whom shall we blame?" There were many bad decisions made by people whose scruples were manipulated by the bottom line dollar figure, and ordered to get it done "or else". Or else what? Oh yeah. We saw that.

I can't imagine anyone, any FREE AMERICAN really believing that the government will solve the problem. This goes along with what I said to a group of liberals at a gathering: When do we wake up and ask ourselves, "How did we let this happen to our country?"

And to a true liberal, there is nothing wrong. I'm the one who's wrong.

I once dropped a gallon container of milk on the dining room floor. I remember watching the milk gushing out of the plastic container. Mom was yelling at me to stop the milk from pouring out on to the floor. Gee, how about picking up the container? Well, the milk is pouring out on the floor right now. Let's watch it for a while, and let's have a meeting to discuss this. Some pretty credible individuals have offered solutions, but they have fallen on deaf ears. I just find it beyond ridiculous that the oil is still gushing into the gulf as I write this. I can hear all the people watching that video and yelling, "DO SOMETHING, SOMEBODY!"

Anonymous said...

Oh I left my comment below in the next post.


Pitbullshark said...

Jeff, I never did have a chance to thank you for this well-reasoned comment, so here I am doing so on my own blog nearly three months later (here it is the day after the ninth anniversary of 9/11, about which I heard nothing except on ONE very good blog). But I wanted to say, notice how what you said was so right, about how "We'll simply lose interest in it as it becomes old news, just like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." When the well finally got capped (I'm not even sure what the actual solution ended up being, the news died so fast--but it was WAY quicker than all the predictions), there was not one shred of cheering, thankfulness, or social comment. It was all just utter silence. But let America win a World Cup soccer game and the cheering becomes a mighty roar in a wave that crashes from one sports bar to another one.

The last I heard or saw were two articles, one saying that the oil had more or less disappeared, apparently eaten up by oil-digesting bacteria, and a counteracting article that said that the oil had been broken down into particles too small to easily detect, but it's all still there. I know which one I WANT to believe (score yet another one for Mother Earth!), yet I'd really like to know the truth instead of carry a false hope. I don't even know what happened on the beaches of Pensacola (is it all cleaned up?) or among various marine industries in Louisiana (did they lose their entire livelihoods, or have some signs of growth miraculously come back?). Why do Americans have such a small attention span, or is the majority of the population as frustrated about it all as we are?

You know I am more libertarian than conservative, more conservative than liberal, yet I read all sides to get a more complete perspective because each one seems to have its own agenda and commits sins of omission, if not presenting outright lies and distortions.

As for me, I don't usually make comments about anything unless my own point of view is unusual, and I think you are the same way. There's no point to adding yet another voice to a chorus that is all saying the exact same (often unthought-out) thing. But that often gets me vilified or attacked, like I am some kind of a crackpot or evil or sociopathic person. No, I think there are few things more evil than a closed mind, and those who work to keep other minds closed, as well. But I certainly honor you as one of the brave ones working against that particular evil.