Monday, July 19, 2010

John Culberson (R- Houston) Is Factually Challenged

I know. I’m not supposed to use the L-word. Saying someone is a liar is fighting words in some parts. So in saying that Congressman John Culberson is “factually challenged” I have exercised some restraint in rhetoric, but I leave no doubt – John Culberson intentionally said something he knows not to be true. I’m sorry to report it, but John Culberson was simply lying when he said this, as quoted in the Houston Chronicle:

“There have been 50,000 wells drilled offshore and this is the first blowout. It is a catastrophe. It is a tragedy. But it is like an airplane falling out of the clear blue sky. You don't ground all airplanes.”
That’s simply not true.

First, let’s assume that in using the term “offshore” Culberson was referring to the offshore Gulf of Mexico. First because the numbers are right when you limit it just to the Gulf. Worldwide, there are much more than 50,000 offshore wells that have been drilled.

In the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s Macondo well was not the first ever to suffer a blowout.

The honor of being the first rig to suffer an offshore blowout in the Gulf of Mexico actually goes to the C.P. Baker Drilling Barge. In June of 1964, in drilling on an offshore location in Block 273 of Eugene Island, a tract operated by the Pan American Petroleum Corporation the well blew out. A short summary of the incident, found here, follows:

“The crew were preparing to run the 20" conductor and BOPs when, at around 0300 hours in the morning, the water around the vessel began to bubble, boil and eventually geyser up with some force between the hulls of the C.P Baker. Water entered the the vessel through open doors on the main deck and electric power was soon lost. Members of the on-duty crew attempted notify the off-duty crew of the blowout but an explosion occurred about five minutes after the blowout was first noticed. The explosion and fire was described as encompassing the whole vessel, and covered an area up to 100 feet around the vessel.”

“Most survivors evacuated the vessel by jumping from the port bow, after which the two support vessels pulled away from the burning C.P. Baker and began picking up survivors from the water. As a result of erupting water entering the hulls through open doors, the vessel began to heel aft and, after around 30 minutes, C.P. Baker sank by the stern. Gas continued to erupt and burn for the following 13 hours, with limited gas release continuing for the following month.”
Eight men died, 13 were missing and presumed dead, and 22 were injured.

But according to John Culberson, that never happened.

Then there was the Sedco 135F semi-submersible rig that blew out in 1979. The Ixtoc-1 well. Oh, but that was in the Mexican offshore Gulf of Mexico, so maybe that doesn’t count. Or maybe it does, considering that it was the merger of two Schlumberger subsidiaries, Sedco and Forex in 1999 that produced a company that was renamed “Transocean Sedco Forex,” later shortened to just “Transocean.”

The Ixtoc well blew out in June 1979 with initial flow rates estimated at 30,000 barrels of oil per day. Flow was cut to a mere 10,000 barrels per day until it was finally killed 9 months later after having released 3.3 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf, a lot of which ended up washing onto Texas’ shoreline.

The cause of the blowout? BOP failure. Same as the Deepwater Horizon.

Or what about the Ensco 51 jackup rig that was drilling a well on that same block as the C.P. Baker Drilling Barge, Eugene Island Block 273, when on March 1st 2001, the well blew out resulting in a fire that consumed the rig causing the derrick to collapse onto the platform. The Ensco 51 rig was subsequently repaired in 2002 and has been drilling in the Asia-Pacific regions since then.

But according to John Culberson, that blowout never happened, either.

So contrary to History According to Culberson, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon blowout is not the first time this has happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Nor is it the second or third time. It’s the fourth such incident.

And of the four, the worst of the four.

One would think that we would learn from one blowout to another, and that our record of blowouts in terms of their prevention and emergency response policies would improve with time. But clearly, the reverse is true.

Taking me back to John Culberson’s analogy between the Deepwater Horizon blowout and an aircplane disaster. Just because one plane falls out of the sky, Culberson reasons, is not justification enough to ground all aircraft.

No, not all aircraft. No one is proposing that. Not all offshore oil rigs, either. Just the few tens of rigs that are drilling in the same deepwater environment that the Macondo well was spud in.

OK, so according to Culberson’ analogy, one plane fell out of the sky. And to-date, we don’t have all the answers to why that happened. But according to Culberson, we can’t jeopardize the jobs of pilots, flight attendants and ground crews just because one plane falls out of the sky. Even if we don’t know why it happened.

My only question to Culberson then is this: how many need to fall out of the sky before we need to stop and ask why that happens? Obviously, it’s not one.


But more to the point, how many millions of barrels of oil do we allow to flow into the Gulf before we are allowed by economics and concerns about jobs in the oil industry to stop and ask how we can prevent that from ever . . . ever . . . happening again?

No comments: