Thursday, May 27, 2010


"We'll get this under control"

It appears that the "top kill" technique of stopping the BP oil spill is working, for now at least. The Top Kill solution worked like this:

Mud and other natural debris were pumped forcibly into the base of the oil rig on the bottom of the ocean floor, almost a mile down. This jams the drill hole which the oil is spooting out of, and blocks the spill. In theory this should hold long enough for a more permanent cap to be put in place.

Now the only problem is the sea of oil - some estimate as much as ten thousand barrels a day worth - and what to do with it. The ocean can easily disperse and diffuse that much oil; many times that much seeps from the ocean floor every day. The problem is its all collected in one fairly enclosed area, and is spreading to beaches. However, this is something that the federal government and the oil business have dealt with before and know what to do, if not usually on this vast a scale.

Like President Obama said, there's plenty of blame to go around:
  • BP and the rest of the oil industry were completely unprepared for this sort of even, even though it obviously was possible. This is inexcusable.
  • President Obama's response team and personal interest in this has been slow and tepid.
  • Regulators and government agencies who were supposed to keep an eye on the business failed to do so, even issuing environmental impact study waivers to BP for this rig earlier.
  • The people who built and maintained the rig clearly didn't do their jobs very well and that was Halliburton.
Some on the left are even trying to blame President Bush for this disaster, over a year since he was out of office. Their logic is that the response teams, procedures, and technology were put in place by President Bush, and Obama simply didn't have time to figure it all out and make it better after 15 months in office. I guess that means 9/11 was President Clinton's fault, considering even less time passed before the terrorist strike and with Gore's failed tantrum trying to steal the presidency Bush had even less time and flexibility to ready for office before his inauguration.

Yet I have to agree in one sense. I do blame President Bush, and president Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and so on... because despite these oil rigs being built and working for decades, apparently no president at any time - including President Obama - was really ready for what could happen. Disasters at sea in American waters are a federal government problem, and this should have been envisioned and prepared for long ago. Even what little provision they did try to set up - inflammable booms to allow burning off surface oil spills - was not required until the Clinton administration, and to this day have not been made available anywhere.

At this point it has become obvious that a combination of having no clue how to handle such a disaster and President Obama's almost total lack of leadership - or even apparent interest in the disaster - is wearing out everyone's patience. Obama is doing the only thing he really knows how to do: rabble rousing. He's holding carefully staged (but sadly, oil-soaked-bird lacking) press conferences to demonstrate how mad he wants people to see him as, he's attacking the oil industry and calling for heavier regulation, he's throwing blame around at everyone but himself, but he's not getting anything positive done.

The Coast Guard got into action almost immediately, and they've been on the scene working hard. They're getting things done. The BP disaster response team has been working around the clock for weeks, building new technology to try to fix the problem, and it appears they may have succeeded, finally. They're getting things done. Coastal states such as Louisiana have started building sand barriers to stop the oil flow instead of waiting for federal government environmental impact studies. They're getting things done. President Obama is making speeches, and even his supporters are becoming exasperated.

Ultimately this disaster proves several things. First, it proves the oil industry was unready for the worst case scenario, something completely unacceptable in business or any other area of life, but especially for something this potentially destructive. Second it proves the US government was completely unprepared for such a disaster, despite having laws to prepare for this. Third, it demonstrates yet again President Obama's lack of leadership and incompetence in an executive role. By now he's getting the hang of what to do after a year of on the job training, but any time a new crisis (a real one, not the "kids are too fat" or "we're eating too much salt" faux crises) comes up, he's paralyzed like a deer in the headlights and reverts to type: make speeches, stir up animosity against his foes.

What it does not prove is that we need to stop drilling for oil. One accident in decades with thousands of these rigs is not proof that this is too dangerous or destructive to consider. That's like banning all exploration because natives kill a colony or a ship sunk while trying to round the horn of Africa. That's the kind of defeatist idiocy that stopped the space program for a decade after one accident with the shuttle. People who make this argument are folks who already thought we shouldn't drill for oil and are looking for any excuse.

And it proves that big companies like BP who are so entrenched in the halls of power and have so many cronies and inside leverage in government are able to get away with things ordinary companies never would. That has to stop, both at the corporate level, but especially at the government level. We've had far too many buddies of industry in positions of power manipulating law, controlling regulators, and ignoring good practice because they know congressmen have their back. I can't help but think of The Godfather where the mob had judges and congressmen in their pocket so they could ignore the law and laugh at the government.

That has to change, or we'll all keep paying this kind of price. And make no mistake, the cost of oil just went up and will continue climbing rapidly, everywhere, on the excuse of all that oil not being collected and the costs of cleanup being passed on - even though this only affects BP and the oil from that region. Look for 4 dollar a gallon gas plus, this summer.

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