Posts tagged ‘Deepwater Horizon’

Kevin Drum Claims "We" Haven't Learned Anything from Deepwater Horizon. What you mean, "we," Kemo Sabe?'

Kevin Drum claims that "we" haven't learned anything from the Deepwater Horizon disaster (the BP oil rig that exploded five years ago in the Gulf, killing a number of people and creating a large oil spill).

What is his evidence?  Has he looked at oil company drilling practices and found them unchanged since the disaster?  No, he does not mention any evidence based on observed drilling practices one way or another.  His sole evidence that "we" have not learned anything is that the US Government has not shut down drilling in the Gulf and has not passed any new laws.

This is almost a caricature of progressive thinking -- nothing matters except what the government does.  But presumably oil companies have been influenced by the cost of the disaster on BP.  So far BP has paid out about $30 billion (billion with a B) in reparations and restoration expenses and may be facing another $20 or so billion in fines based on a 2014 court decision.  All this ignores the loss of the platform itself, of access to the resource below the platform, and of BP's reputation.

One would presume that the prospect of losing $50+ billion would be enough to get the attention of private companies and cause them to make changes to their procedures.  I suppose it is also possible that they completely ignored this, but Drum offers no evidence one way or another.  To him, anything not done by the government is irrelevant.

Not Particularly Surprising

Natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release more oil each year than even the most recent oil spill.  Somehow, nature consumes this oil with only a few tar ball showing up on beaches.  Which is why this is not hugely surprising

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.

Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf.

The Forgotten Dead

I was thinking today, what must the families of the 11 people killed on the Deepwater Horizon be thinking?  Their losses are never mentioned in any news reports I see.  Its all about getting oil on the ducks.

Sure, I am pissed off about the enormous damage to the Gulf Coast as well.  But I got to thinking, were I the engineer that made the wrong risk/safety decisions here, what would I feel most guilty about?  I was put in that position for years in a refinery, constantly asked, "is this safe" or "can we keep running" or "do we need to shut down" or "is that vibration a problem?"  These are difficult, because in the real-world of engineering, things are not ever perfectly safe.  But never-the-less, if I had made the wrong call here, I think I would be feeling a lot worse about the 11 dead people than a number of dead fish and birds.  Perhaps my priorities are out of whack with the times.

By the way, TJIC has a great post on risk and cost in the real world of engineering.  I agree with his thoughts 100% from my experience as a troubleshooter / engineer in the field making just these decisions.

Look, we all trade off safety in order to save time and expense.

Do you put on your seat belt when moving your car from one point in the driveway to another?

Do you buy the car that costs twice as much, because it's got a 1% increase in crash survivability?

Did you pay $40k to get industrial fire sprinklers installed in your house?

Do you have a home defibrillation machine?

There is nothing wrong, in the abstract, with trading off safety in order to save time and expense.

The question is whether BP did this to a level that constitutes "gross negligence".