Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Oil Spill is Still Spilling

Definite word came today that the latest effort to plug the leak failed. BP is trying something new that could take up to a week or so to go into effect. I'm not sure who was responsible for what the president called, "optimistic reports about the procedure," which suggested earlier this week that the so-called "top kill" plug effort was succeeding. Raising expectations and then smashing them is pretty bad public relations. Those in charge of the capping procedures, and anyone in the government talking about them, should be more careful not to create false hopes. Maybe it was just bad reporting, but it is surprising that information given to the press wasn't done in a much more neutral fashion -- something like, we're still evaluating the results and can't say yet whether or not we've succeeded in plugging the leak.

I'm a big supporter of offshore drilling, and don't think we should suspend operations because of one accident -- no matter how severe. But having said that, there should certainly be a major reevaluation of safety procedures and contingency plans in the event of catastrophe. I admit to a complete lack of knowledge regarding the technical aspects of oil drilling, so I may be way off-base. But it appears to me that BP didn't have much of a plan for dealing with worst case scenarios. I know the well is very deep, and that it probably isn't possible to test capping procedures. But I would think such things could and should be done with detailed and realistic computer simulations, so that a well-structured emergency plan could be in place. Whenever you are reduced to just trying stuff and seeing if it might work -- which appears to be the extent of BP's contingency planning -- you aren't in good shape with an ongoing disaster. Is this particular spill event really so unforeseen that one of the world's largest oil companies can be caught flatfooted? It's reaction so far is not exactly that of a well-oiled machine -- pun intended.


  1. If you can find the congressional testimony on this, the transcript that this is the fault of the manager on the rig. He was repeatedly warmed of signs that it was going to blow for over 4 hours and did nothing.

    But, I also have to agree with something I heard someone else say about this. It is a cultural issue at BP. They have a long history of major accidents before this (on the Alaska pipeline and at their Texas refinery). A very deep investigation needs to go into all of their official and unofficial procedures.

  2. That may be the case, and a failure to react to danger signs is yet another issue. In any event, it seems to me that when you are going to conduct operations with the potential for a major catastrophe, there needs to be a whole lot of worst-case scenario planning. In other words, BP should have explored the scenario that goes: what if one of our deep-water rigs blows up and causes a major spill? It's as if they dismissed that as a serious possibility because it hadn't happened, and didn't really prepare for the worst.