Friday, May 28, 2010

On the Oil Leak

When the oil rig first blew up and I heard there was oil spewing, I was much more distressed about the 11 people who died.  Not that I was unconcerned about the oil leak itself, but in my worldview there are tradeoffs -- and if you're going to drill for oil in the ocean, or transport it across the ocean in tankers, occasionally we're going to have probelms like this; not that we shouldn't try our darndest to avoid them without completely shutting the whole industry down and going back to burning cow feces for fuel.

I'll be honest, I didn't expect the oil to leak for more than a week or 10 days, max.  Not good, but ... if you had told me it'd take almost 40 days before they actually made any attempt to plug it up, I wouldn't have believed you.  And yet here we are.

A friend recently posted,
"If you're not prepared to fail, how will you ever create anything original?" —Sir Ken Robinson
Now this is from a creative person, and the scope here is for the creator.  It's a sub-set of "it is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all".   Which is also true 99% of the time.

And it is true for offshore and deep-well offshore drilling as well.   We've gotten a relatively infinite amount of good out of oil than we've had to pay in the "bad" tradeoffs.  And believe it or not, the earth will heal.   Not saying the oil spills are cool and I'm fine with them.  I'm saying if we want the good the oil brings, we're going to see and have to deal with the occasional disaster like this. 

Now if we go back to the quote my friend posted and inspect it a little closer, "if you're not prepared to fail".   Were "we", (and by "we" I mean BP) prepared for failure -- that is, did they have a contingency plan in the event that something like this happened?

It appears not.  And that's bad.   We should all learn from this.

But the lesson shouldn't be to stop offshore drilling or even deep-well offshore drilling.   The lesson should be -- if your safety devices fail, you'd better have a thought-out plan ... dare I even say a creatively thought-out plan -- to stop it.  And it would be good if you'd rehearsed it and done some testing as well.

Charles Krauthammer's take on it was pretty good.  You might go give it a read.


Whitehawk said...

It would be very interesting to read BP's engineer's notes on "worst case senarios" for deep water drilling. Can't imagine this has not been discussed before at a planning meeting somewhere. Mexico had this happen in the 70's and the slick hit the coast of Texas. It's not like it hasn't happened before. Anyway, it is profoundly disappointing that they did not have or did not employ the "fix" for this senario and rob the government of another opportunity to prey upon a crisis.

philmon said...

Oh yes. It would not shock me at all to find that this crisis was "allowed" to develop from a relatively small one that quickly slips from peoples' memories to a relatively large one that people will talk about for years -- for just that purpose.

It may not be true. I don't want it to be true. I hope it's not true. But these people (and by that I mean the progressives currently in charge) have shown themselves to be quite calculating and I would not put it past them.

38 or 39 days before we started pumping crud down it to try to clog it up. Seems like we could have tried something earlier. That's a whole lotta freakin' oil.

Anonymous said...

Yes all thing new had to have trail and error period.The first oil rigs mad quit a mess. This oil spill is a welcome opportunity to "prey upon a crisis" and would allow the government to demonize off shore drilling.
It is not even mentioned that the amount of oil discovered could change the balance of oil power. that can not happen. This disaster plays into the anti drilling camps hands and had to have far reaching ecological impact.

philmon said...

I saw one guy suggest that a relief well be a standard precaution on these things so there's already a well in place if the primary breaks. I have no idea how expensive this would be. But I'm thinking over the life of the well, this should at least be considered.

In the mean time, we need (and by that I mean the oil companies) to be thinking about other faster mitigation methods for future mishaps.

(yeah, I know, "mishap" hardly seems to cover this ... but that's only because we weren't ready for something like this)

Cylar said...

It frustrates the hell out of me, that there are so many people who still fail to understand that oil is the lifeblood of the US economy. Period, finito, end of story.

All of the alternatives put together wouldn't make a dent in our energy needs.

If more people understood this, there wouldn't be so much hand-wringing about oil spills. People would understand that periodic spills are simply, like you said, a cost of doing business. A tragedy which can be minimized but never eliminated altogether.

For that matter, we wouldn't be hearing any of this "No Blood for Oil" crap when the US goes to war in the Mideast. People would understand that oil is something worth fighting for, especially when our own reserves of the stuff have been put off-limits.