Friday, May 28, 2010

Leak Fixed?

Happy Friday! It's Memorial Day weekend. Hope everyone enjoys it. Don't forget to take a moment to remember our fallen soldiers as you go about your barbecues and beer drinking and whatnot! Working on the formation of this veterans treatment docket, I've had a chance to hear a few stories and experiences of recent Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and it just kind of drives home the point that there are some soldiers out there who really are giving up an awful lot in service to our country.


What else? It sounds like BP has tentatively announced that they may have gotten the oil leak plugged out in the gulf***. They're not sure if the fix is going to hold, so people probably shouldn't start celebrating just yet, but it's still nice to know that there's finally some measure of progress. Of course, yesterday came the announcement that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is now, by almost all accounts, the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, so there probably won't be a lot of celebrating, regardless of whether or not the leak is actually plugged.
Last night I watched news coverage of some of the ecological damage that's already occurred on the beaches, in the marshlands, and out in the open ocean, and it was all pretty sad and awful.
Still, if the flow of oil out of the seafloor is finally stopped and at least the problem isn't getting worse with every passing day- well, that would be a nice thing for all of us as we go into this Memorial Day weekend.
And there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not this is "Obama's Katrina". Critics, including a number of prominent Democrats who would probably normally support the president, have said that the president's response to the oil spill hasn't been aggressive or effective enough.
Frankly, there were probably some missteps, but I'm not sure how much more the president could have actually done once the spill occurred. The federal government just isn't really set up to handle a huge oil spill that occurs under a mile of ocean. Maybe he could have deployed a few more boats or something, but he's already got the Navy and the Coast guard on it, and although he maybe he should have been less trusting of BP at times, I'm not sure that he's failed to take any steps that would have ended up making much difference.
Mostly I think there are just a whole lot of angry people out there who are looking for someone to blame, and everyone just feels like we should have known better than to expect more out of BP.
So it now seems like the government might have been too trusting of BP in this deal (it sounds like BP probably minimized and mischaracterized the damage initially and may have made some misleading statements as they handled this situation), but, to be honest, it just doesn't seem like the government had much choice other than to work with BP and hope that they were operating in good faith. BP was the only organization with the resources, expertise, and access to the site, and it has seemed all along that cooperation with BP was really the only viable route available in terms of having a realistic chance of fixing the problem (or they were certainly the organization best situated to deal with the accident and the leak).
Maybe the federal government should have had some deepwater equipment or better response protocols of their own, but in my mind the biggest failure in this situation came long before the leak actually occurred. I just find it pretty shocking that there weren't more well-tested, effective, efficient procedures already in place to deal with these sort of deepwater drilling activities in the event that something went wrong. It seems crazy, in retrospect, that we've been allowing deep water drilling off of our nation's shores, apparently without ever bothering to really evaluate and assess the effectiveness of accident recovery efforts on deepwater wells or without thoroughly examining the preparedness of these companies to deal with this type of emergency. It just seems like the federal government has primarily been relying upon the assurances of the oil companies, taking them at their word when they've claimed that an accident could never occur and that if it did occur, the oil companies would be equipped and ready to handle an accident response. Clearly, at least in deep water drilling situations, the oil companies were overselling their ability to effectively handle a major accident.
So I think we need to see the oil companies actually demonstrate an ability to effectively handle deep water drilling accidents if we're going to let them continue to carry on business as usual (let alone open up new ocean areas to them for drilling). We can't operate on the basis of simple promises- we need to be able to review detailed disaster plans, have an ability to check to make sure they have the proper containment/cleanup equipment on standby, and ideally, we need to be able to see these companies periodically carry out sort of mock or practice repair/containment drills using techniques and equipment that has actually been proven to be effective. Right now I just feel like advancements in the technology and techniques to carry out the actual drilling part of these deep sea operations have far outpaced the ability to effectively deal with and repair the situation if something goes wrong. The oil companies may have reduced the chances of an accident, but clearly accidents can and do still happen, and it only takes one of these things to do huge amounts of damage.
Anyway, I don't think it's all that fair to start calling this Obama's Katrina, but given the extent of the damage, the president may get stuck with that title, anyhow. Still, Obama was holding cabinet meetings and deploying the Coast Guard and trying to keep BP accountable from day one (maybe not aggressively enough, in hindsight, but I think it took a little while for people to understand the extent of the tradgedy- especially given the fact that BP, the only people with access to the actual leak site, weren't entirely honest) . Bush, on the other hand, sat out at his ranch on vacation while New Orleans sank and the rescue effort went awry, and when he finally did address the issue he merely praised his incompetent appointees who were botching the recovery operation (anyone else remember "Heck of a job, Brownie"?).

Hey, I gotta run. Maybe more later!

*** If you're confused about why this link is actually about the ineffectiveness of the "top kill" solution instead of about why the top kill solution is working , well, that would be because by the end of the day BP was announcing that the top kill hadn't been working as well as originally reported, and that they now had doubts about the success of the entire procedure (and the same MYT article I had linked to previously has now been updated to support this). BP says that they didn't mean to mislead anyone, but that it just takes some time to figure out whether the top kill procedure is actually working. Frankly, I'm a little skeptical and don't know what to think. I tend to doubt that BP is being really honest with the public (they lost a lot of credibility in my mind when it became clear that they hadn't initially been honest about the amount of oil flowing into the gulf), but at the same time I wonder if some of this misinformation isn't a product of news organizations who are overeager to be the first to report important developments- prematurely passing along sort of questionable information which is actually little more than speculation on the part of BP employees and government officials.

Anyway, the leak isn't fixed, apparently. Boooo!!!!!!


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