Thursday, June 3, 2010

Plenty of Blame to Go Around for the Disaster in the Gulf

The oil rig explosion has led to the greatest environmental disaster this nation has ever suffered. Crude oil now stretches almost halfway across the Gulf of Mexico.

Over one month into this, we still have two or three months to go before a relief well can be drilled. The fishing industries, and all the beach-related tourism industries, will very likely be destroyed.

How long? People are still finding tar balls on Texas beaches from the Ixtoc-1 blowout off Yucatan in 1979. The current disaster is far larger: the livelihoods of millions could be destroyed for a generation or more.

This is not the first American oil well drilled beyond where human divers can go. This is just the first one to “go bad”.

Offshore drilling at any depth requires a permit from the Minerals Management Service (MMS). One requirement is a report explaining what the company proposes to do about any conceivable accident, and why the government should believe that they can do it.

From what I have read and seen, BP’s 582-page report was not worth the paper: I think everyone now knows they are actually “making this up as they go”. Clearly, they did not take very seriously their disaster-management responsibility.

MMS was specifically charged with verifying the adequacy of these disaster plans. Clearly, they failed. But, beyond that failure, why should we believe in the adequacy of any of the disaster plans submitted by any oil company?

I am not happy with federal emergency responses, either. This is not the fault of the President and his administration (current or previous), but it is the fault of the massively slow career bureaucracy.

Case in point: delaying construction of off-shore sand berms, because they might have some undefined future ill effect. We already know that the oil coming ashore unhindered will most definitely have a disastrous effect. Absolutely brain dead stupid!

An order from the President could have broken this bureaucratic logjam, because they work for him. Neither this President, nor the previous one, issued the critical command when the time was right.

So, here is my specific list of suggestions to keep this from happening again:

1. Remove both the liability limits and the statute of limitations. Faced with the true costs, they will pay more attention to safety, prevention, and preparedness.

2. Use two blowout preventers on each well, as the Europeans do in the North Sea. The compounded probability of containing the accident is much higher.

3. For wells beyond the reach of human divers, require that the main well and a relief well be drilled at the same time. If the worst happens, the relief well could be completed in days, not months.

4. Spend federal money now developing sand berms, better absorbents, and better boom technology, so that emergency response in the future is much more effective and a lot faster.

5. Issue executive orders immediately to get these bureaucratic agencies moving very much more quickly, perhaps even anticipating these disasters. No more Katrinas.

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