Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who is Quicker than the Feds’ Response to the Gulf Oil Spill?

When the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank last week no one was particularly concerned, except for the families of the missing and presumed dead. But then when an oil slick appeared local service companies and BP itself mobilized the oil cleanup armada that is kept nearby in just such a case as this.

And no one was particularly concerned, except for the families of the missing and presumed dead.

But then when we are treated to back-to-back news that all attempts to activate the subsea blowout preventer at the extreme depth that the Deepwater Horizon was drilling had failed and were going to continue to fail, and then a third seafloor leak had been discovered, upping the size of the flow to 5,000 barrels of crude per day, all of a sudden, people became concerned.

Concerned because it was now apparent that the huge oil slick was heading toward shore and there was nothing to stop the flow outside of drilling relief wells.

A job that can take months at that depth.

Then I waited. I waited and listened, knowing what I was going to be hearing from the rightwing nutjobs and teabaggers, rubbing my hands gleefully in anticipation.

And today it started. Not so much by the rightwing media, they might not react because they may see this the way I see it, but crazies and teabaggers always guarantee satisfaction.

They are blaming Obama for not reacting fast enough and sending federal help sooner, quicker to respond to the disaster than the federal government, apparently.

Here it is in readers’ comments at a Houston Chronicle story on the subject:

“We don't need Congress to investigate anything, other than the government's slow response to (another!) environmental disaster. Do more to stop the spread of the oil, not to waste time in D.C.”

“We don't need Congress to investigate anything, other than the government's slow response to (another!) environmental disaster. Do more to stop the spread of the oil, not to waste time in D.C.”

“Come on media, cover this like you covered Bush and Katrina. Why was Obama and his administration so slow to react. Why werent they there several days ago. How much additional damage was done because it took them so long to get involved?”
And then there’s this from a blog on the sea:

“The rig exploded a week ago Tuesday and sank on a Wednesday, a full eight days ago. For eight days the rig has been spewing oil into the Gulf. For eight days industry and environmental officials have been talking about a major spill with the potential to cause one of the worst ecological disasters in U.S. history.”

“What has the Obama Administration been doing about it? Other than pledging to investigate the cause of the incident, virtually nothing.”

These people dare to blame the Obama Administration, or accuse them of dragging their feet on a man-made disaster? A disaster created, produced and directed by British Petroleum and the service companies it hired to drill this well?

Who is culpable in this accident? BP. Who should clean it up? BP. Who should reimburse anyone negatively affected by their error? BP.

Here we have these crazies on the one hand wringing their hands over government bailout of the auto industry, government bailout of banks, and about how big government is taking over the free market, and its all socialism, but when an oil company drilling in the Gulf loses a rig and starts an environmental disaster, they expect the feds to come in and bail out BP.

And that’s not socialism.

They're accusing the feds of being irresponsible for waiting so long while the oil company and the service companies respond.

And the underlying assumption, of course, is that the federal government has in its vast warehouses all the equipment necessary to get this thing done faster and more efficiently than private industry.

But at the same time, these same people claim that the last organization you want to see running a national healthcare system is the federal government. Because they are so inefficient.


No, the only thing that the federal government needs to do right now is ask around about what the plan is when an oil company drills in the deepwater, as is their wont these days, and everything goes wrong.

They need to ask this burning question: isn’t drilling in the deepwater without a plan to kill a well blowout in any scenario much like driving a car without seat belts? And without air bags? And without first responders?

The only silver lining in this entire affair is that it has finally happened here (and not Brazil or Angola). We can now ask these questions and hopefully get some answers that don’t look like shrugging shoulders.


Marsha said...

Geez Hal, Obama is damned if he calls in the Government and damned if he doesn't. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

BP didn't offer me the job. I had finally landed nothing better than a phone interview with a
production group engineering manager in their Mississippi Canyon Group who quickly led me
to understand how hopelessly incompetent I was in answering his questions on how and with
which of his drilling team professionals I would interact with and how, in proposing and planning
the deepwater Gulf of Mexico wells I would be working on. My B.Sc. and M.Sc. in geology and
geophysics and twenty plus years of exploration and production work as a geoscientist at
companies such as Exxon and Atlantic Richfield were apparently no match for this corporate
fault finders self assurance.
Finding and producing oil in deepwater settings such as that in which BP's disastrous drilling
debacle, that started with their pushing a drill bit into what is clearly a major oil find, is an
expensive, time consuming and technically elaborate process. 3d seismic is acquired and
processed, maps of subsurface structures and likely reservoirs completed by geoscientists and
risk/ size estimates generated. Complex economic models justify the enormous sums needed to
bid on the offshore blocks,plan and drill the wells and put in the production facilities and
pipelines necessary to bring enormous volumes of oil ashore. Billion barrel accumulations are
being found and platform production rates of 50 to 100,000 barrels a day are being achieved.
Which brings us back to BP and our supremely confident fault finding bachelor's degree
engineer manager who knows more than everyone else.
A company has to do ALOT of things wrong to lose control of a well. One has to ignore or badly
miscalculate the depth of the reservoir. The mud engineers have to severely underestimate the
density of the drilling mud necessary to hold back the pressure within the reservoir so oil and
gas can't blast to the surface up the well bore and explode, destroying the rig and killing
workers. Ram blow out preventers(BOPs) on the seafloor and at the surface,essentially giant
clamps which can be closed, shutting in the well when pressure surges, have to fail or fail to be
A telling clue for how the disaster occurred came from the BP CEO's office this week when
CEO Heyward wondered aloud what they had done to deserve the massive blow out. Strange
words indeed from a man who makes tens of milllions of dollars a year heading one of the
world's most profitable corporations.
Whats happening right now is that at least 5000 barrels of oil a day (and probably quite a lot
more is blasting up the well bore and into the Gulf of Mexico where it will devastate in the
coming weeks, the coastal marshes,wetlands,beaches and inlets of Louisiana,
Mississippi,Alabama and Florida. 5000 barrels a day is a very low estimate for what an
uncontrolled well of this type can produce. If we conservatively estimate 150,000 to 300,000
barrels of oil spilling into nearshore waters for the foreseeable future at the mouth of the
Mississsippi, the magnitude and impact of this event becomes clear.
British Petroleum is responsible for the biggest environmental disaster in US history.
I thought that interview was very dysfunctional then. Now? I think joining that organization
as a thinking human being would have been impossible.

Hal said...


As an ex-major employee I definitely feel your pain, Anon. I saw it 10 years ago. Majors were letting their intelligence go in favor of less demanding payrolls.

Experience matters.

This disaster should not be news to those of us who were there when the norm was that OP was to be respected. And watched.

Anonymous said...

5000 bbls per day is approximately 30 gallons a minute. My irrigation pumps operate at a rate many times that. Please educate yourselves before you comment.

Hal said...

Stick to agriculture, Anon. 5000 bbl/day is equivalent to 156 gal/minute.

And unlike water, which is good for crops, oil is definitely bad for sealife.