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Day 65 Deep Drilling Thoughts

Some thoughts, feel free to refute them with proof, reasonable arguments, nunchucks, etc.

The current drilling moratorium is a joke, alright? Not in theory, but in practice.

1) It takes six months for “the commission to determine how to prevent this from ever happening again?” Arbitrary duration and a poorly-stated goal. The way to prevent this from happening again is known. But it’s going to take a lot more than six months, given the pace at which the federal government moves, to enforce and measure real behavior change that should come from within a given company, set up a verifiable and analyzable flow of data between the company and the MMS, remove the conflicts of interest between energy companies and the MMS and revamp the regulatory agency in any lasting fashion.

2) Not all oil companies are the same. Other players will already have increased safety measures in a hurry. Even if they have not, what is going to happen in six months to change standard operating procedure? What are we doing to address the smaller leakers? If the goal here is “to prevent this from happening again,” can we get a guarantee that this oil spill or even a smaller version of it will never happen again IN SIX MONTHS TIME?

3) I guarantee you that someone has done a tremendous amount of market research on behalf of the government that by the six-month mark, the public will have softened its stance on drilling enough for things to go back to business as usual. It’s a nice round we’ve-all-done-enough-penance number.

Yes, you heard me right earlier. The way to prevent this from happening again is known. There are folks opposed to and for offshore drilling who say that we can never prevent a recurrence and therefore we should stop drilling or continue to drill, respectively. But, this was no mere accident. An accident happens when you follow all the rules of the road and external, heretofore-unknown circumstances conspire against you. In this case, the driver didn’t have the seatbelt on, the tires were under-inflated, the brakes were non-operational but no one had bothered to check them and the car was driven anyway even after passengers expressed concern and asked for the handover of keys. (Hey, if folks in the industry are going to liken this ongoing disaster to a car accident or plane crash, you can bet I will run miles with the metaphor.) So, this much is absolutely preventable.

What about the rest? As commenter Blair, who incidentally is a rocket scientist, said in a comment to a previous post, “It costs to do fault tree analysis and establish contingency plans, but the cost of NOT planning is getting too high. I worry that governments are reactive in nature and will never get ahead of the situation. Government CAN require industry to have plans in place before they proceed with potentially risky activity.” You cannot prevent lightning from striking the collection ship thus halting oil recovery for a while. That is a legitimate accident. But to not anticipate and not plan for any critical component of the operation failing due to human oversight or act of god, even and especially in the recovery phase, shows that neither BP nor the government has learned philosophically much from the initial disaster and it’s going to take a lot more than six months and a drilling moratorium to fix systemic breakdown.

Fire away.

Update: Oil gushing at spill site after vent damaged; cap removed after robotic sub hits vent

We need a moratorium on whomever is running this outfit. NOW.

2 comments… add one
  • Tim June 23, 2010, 6:51 PM

    I support the 6-month moratorium. I think MMS needs to take a step back and assess their role in this catastrophe. What did they do poorly? What did they fail to do? What could they have done that they don’t typically do? MMS also needs to refocus on the purpose of their agency. Is their goal to maximize the economic benefit of mineral extraction, or is it to assure safety for workers and environmental protection? MMS needs to ask, do we have the right people with the right skills to get the job done? What changes do we need to make to make our agency work? If they can answer these questions and implement changes in less than 6 months, lift the moratorium sooner.



  • Maitri June 24, 2010, 9:07 AM

    What did they do poorly? What did they fail to do? What could they have done that they don’t typically do?

    This is not some lookback after a near miss, Tim. I don’t know about the Corps, but the MMS is plagued with problems to the core, all the way to Interior. Salazar and Obama, who voted for the Energy Policy Act in 2005 and, until April 20th, supported the expansion of offshore drilling, are not in the mental or logistical positions to do real assessment and make meaningful, lasting changes. I don’t see any motion or transparency in how things are changing, if they are indeed changing. For god’s sake, the “recovery” is bungled at best with only two relief wells and ROVs knocking off vents. Americans are owed more proof that the moratorium is worthwhile and will change MMS oversight and reporting structures for the better.

    I’m not saying a moratorium is unjustified, just that it is useless if not enacted efficiently. And, unless Ken Salazar is a seriously changed man, I don’t expect him to disrupt the flow of Too Big To Fail.

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