Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Top-kill fails — as does industry, government

BP says its “top-kill” attempt to stanch the oil and gas hemorrhaging has failed. Now what? It’s beginning to look like we’re going to have to watch that thing befoul the Gulf at least through August, when the relief well will have been drilled. Assuming the relief well works, of course, which is not a sure thing.
Get this: BP’s internal documents and other evidence shows that the company’s concern about the stability of that well far pre-dated the blowout (by 11 months, it appears), and that the company was cutting safety corners for some time — with government approval!
I am largely sympathetic to the view David Brooks has been airing lately, that Americans are unrealistic about what government can do in a disaster, falsely assuming that Washington can swoop in and solve anything if only it wants to. Brooks says that George W. Bush took some unfair criticism in this regard on Katrina, and Obama’s in the same fix on the oil spill. That said, what I believe Brooks misses, or at least doesn’t give sufficient attention to, is how government didn’t do all it should have done — or even close — to guard against catastrophe.
It is unrealistic to expect government — federal, state or local — to swoop swiftly in and fix everything displaced and wrecked by a hurricane like Katrina. What enraged me is what we learned about how local government in Louisiana failed to have adequate plans in place for this disaster everybody has known for generations was coming. What enraged me at the federal government was how the president put that nitwit Brownie in charge of FEMA — as if disaster management was so unimportant that it could be entrusted to a political hack. Overall, it was the failure of government to take its responsibilities to prepare for a crisis seriously that was so infuriating.
In the BP disaster, we see that the oil industry captured the regulators who were supposed to be looking out for the public interest. I am not one of those conservatives who is ideologically hostile to regulation. Because I believe in human fallibility, I believe that we must have safeguards built into any system to save us from ourselves and our ineradicable tendency toward corruption (by “corruption,” I don’t mean bribe-taking, but rather the broader, philosophical meaning of the word, which entails giving in to temptations to cut corners, to save money, to take the easy way out instead of doing the right but hard thing, etc.). In other words, I believe in regulation because of the kind of conservative I am. I believe there is certainly a such thing as too much regulation, and foolish regulation, but the line between responsible government stewardship of private industry and onerous regulation exists far away from the way the federal government looks after the oil and gas industry.
We will always have disasters. Katrina was an act of God. But the Deepwater Horizon is looking like it was an act of man, and preventable, if only men had done their duties. This catastrophe is a moral failure too.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 11:52 am

Now is the time to ask “why are we drilling at 5,000 foot depths?” could it be due to government regulations and environmentalism? Charles Krauthammer asks that question today in his column in the WashPost,
“Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production”
if this blowout had occurred at on land it would have been quickly shutdown or more likely never have occurred. In the early days of the oil industry gushers like Spindletop were allowed to spew because it drew in investors, then the companies realized it was a waste of resources and money.
Here we see the failure of the almighty government regulations. now lets rethink our bans against drilling in shallow waters and on land

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posted May 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The most sensible temporary remedy that I’ve heard is to station tankers around the gusher and along the course of the oil-dispersant “clouds” to try to pump the stuff out of the water. Not sure what the advocates of this fix propose to do with all that goo once it has been retrieved – somehow refine it back into oil, I suppose. (And do what with the byproducts?)
The expense of that or some other fix, plus the cost of coastal cleanup, will be borne by taxpayers, of course. Liquidating the oil company and its contractors probably wouldn’t raise enough money to cover the costs – although doing that would be just, and a useful object lesson for other corporate polluters and safety corner-cutters, and a welcome contribution to the cleanup kitty . . . and a fantasy, as this Supreme Court would surely concoct a rationale to prevent it.
It’s going to be very interesting – and depressing, and infuriating – to watch the debate about regulation over the next year. The forces likely to capitalize politically on this case of regulatory failure are opponents of government safety and pollution regulations. The regulatory lapses that enabled this disaster occurred mostly in 2005-08, under the anti-regulation Bush administration; nevertheless, the blame will fall on the Obama administration. So, we’ll see a shift in the congressional balance of power to opponents of “big government” and “over-regulation.”
And we can await the next catastrophe, confident that nothing will be done to head it off.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm

The question still remains: Why would anyone want to elect to government someone who hates government? We’re now 30 years into the false premise that government is up to no good….and the results of that greed-based approach is washing up along the Gulf coast.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm

So let’s see, now we’re going to trust the same idiots to knock another hole in the same oilfield, probably with even more shortcuts than the last one. The government’s line in this is “gee, we don’t know anything about oil wells. We have no equipment.”
Maybe it’s time they develop some capability. We spend how many hundreds of billions developing fighters and bombers for threats that don’t exist. Hundreds of billions for space warfare! Our entire military posture and imperialist ring of 900+ military bases around the world is based almost entirely on energy security. Here we have a private company whose incompetence will cause more economic damage to our nation than Al Queda could ever dream of, and the attitude is “oh, well, there’s nothing to be done.”

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Joe Magarac

posted May 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Deepwater Horizon is looking like it was an act of man, and preventable, if only men had done their duties.
Regulators are always captured to some extent by the people or industries they regulate. The regulators and the regulated become friends over time. Sometimes a regulator will leave government to take a job in the regulated industry. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
Juvenal asked the question centuries ago, and it has never been answered: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards?
Maybe it’s my Slavic nature (you call it pessimism; I call it realism), but I don’t understand the faith that people put in rules and regulations. If only there were better regulations, bishops would not have reassigned abusive priests. If only there were better regulations, the feds would not have allowed BP to push the safety envelope. If only there were better regulations, the Fed would not have allowed the mortgage industry to bubble and then burst.
Ridiculous. Benedict XVI has it right: the only answer to these problems is prayer and penance.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

“Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production”
Utter hogwash. It’s not as if BP said, “Hmmm, we can’t drill in the Pacific or Atlantic Coast, so we’ll drill in the Gulf.” BP will drill anyplace it can do so with a profit (after pushing environmental costs onto the rest of us, of course).
The US oil supply is so tiny that it has virtually no effect on world supplies or the general price of oil, so closing a couple US sources does not cause oil companies to drill elsewhere. It just stops drilling where it stops drilling.
Closing some US locations to the desecration of oil companies means only oil companies cannot put those places at risk. It does not transfer activity elsewhere. If oil companies could, they’d be drilling in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Gulf.

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Arthur Battaglia

posted May 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Submitted to BP’s web site for suggestions: 5/30/10 by me,
Brief Description of the Technology: 200 words or less
Build a Sarcophagus you freakin’ idiots. Scuttle a freighter over top of the gusher. Pile it with debris and mud. Seal it with underwater cement. Plug the holes as you see them. If the gusher is 6500 lbs or 600,000 lbs of pressure, it won’t overcome a quarter mile wide and quarter mile high sarcophagus.
Materials Required, 50 words or less
Old Freighter ship, rail box cars, junkyard debris, boulders and small junk fill, (piles of crap) self sealing mud through a hose. Remember when they built a giant cement sarcophagus around the Chernobyl Reactor? First: You stop the bleeding; just like a wounded patient.
Equipment required: 50 words or less
10 – 20 Surface ships hauling crap to the gusher.
Expertise Required – including description and numbers (100 words or less)
Next to none. If you can drop rocks into water, you can do this. This relies on the oldest engineering principle known to man: Overcome force with Greater force. It’s so old and so simple that it’s Biblical. Note; employ the golden ratios employed by the original Stone Masons. Massive Support for massive material thickness. Quit expecting a band aid on some well head to hold back a tsunami. That’s engineering idiocy. Get out of the classroom and away from your stupid computer models, you egghead dweebs.

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the stupid Chris

posted May 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

In other words, I believe in regulation because of the kind of conservative I am.
Same here.
This catastrophe is a moral failure too.
Yes, and that failure is not limited to BP and government regulators, but to all of us whose “prosperity” is based upon cheap oil.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I suspect strongly this will be demonstrated in months and years to come as an environmental catastrophe. Besides the oil and the dispersant s we also have this mud – which is not just plain old mud but a toxic stew of chemicals added to the mud. It seems too that they have had inexperienced people laying the boom and so it has been laid wrong – they even had people in local parishes who were given boom but hadn’t gotten around to laying it yet. Those first pictures we saw of oil in a marsh occurred because the boom to protect that marsh was sitting on a dock instead of being in the water.
PeterK – the location of wells in deep water is also because of NIMBY – people don’t want their view spoiled. It is also because that is where the oil is and finally – there is an advantage to wells further out to sea – it takes longer for the spills to reach the fragile coast giving more time for containment. Not to mention that BP and any oil company will drill where ever they think they can make money. Too simplistic to blame it all on those naughty environmentalists.
allbetsareoff – everything I have read says that BP is responsible for the cost of cleanup – they have a cap on the cost – 75 billion – but they have already and repeatedly said they will ignore said cap and will pay the full cost. So far it is being reported they have spent 700 million. They have also committed to 500 million for a study of the long term effects of the dispersants. Some senators have introduced legislation eliminating any caps and some have introduced legislation to lower the cap obviously friends of the oil co.’s).
I am absolutely amazed that people can on one hand call for smaller govt, cry that govt is incapable of doing anything right, call any involvement of govt in private enterprise (remember health reform anyone?) socialism but now – we want the govt to expand its powers
and develop the ability to drill oil wells. That is nuts. Plus that really is socialism. The same people who hate the Corps of Engineers re: the New Orleans levees now want the Corps to build offshore sand barriers. The same people who complained that liberals had created a cult around Obama now expect Obama to walk on the GOM and miraculously stop the oil. If anything is apparent it is that this spill has taken us to new territory – so let’s give the job to totally inexperienced people and expect them to do better than those who know something about the many many variables affecting undersea oil. From reports in the technical news it is clear that if they make a mistake this well will collapse and then NOTHING can be done to stop it. So I think I’d stick with people who have some experience. Plus – there are now hundreds of engineers etc from all the oil companies and the government working on this.
I fault the administration for not cleaning up the MMS sooner – it was known when he took office that the MMS had become a den of corruption and was too cozy with the industry. Although – this well was in operation before Obama took office so even a more timely clean up at MMS would not have prevented this disaster.
Obviously BP, Transocean and Halliburton are at fault for taking short cuts.
But I think too our naivette and lack of realism play a big role here – we think everything should be capable of being fixed, that people and machines will always perform perfectly and never screw up or break. We fail to acknowledge the complexity of the processes that support our way of life. We take great risks every day in drilling oil, transporting chemicals, operating nuclear power plants etc etc – yet we ignore that there is a risk and pretend that any risk can be managed. And then when the truth smacks us in the face we need someone to blame.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm

“The US oil supply is so tiny that it has virtually no effect on world supplies or the general price of oil, so closing a couple US sources does not cause oil companies to drill elsewhere. It just stops drilling where it stops drilling.”
I’m uncertain of national trends, but here in our corner of SE Iowa, with the crisis in the Gulf and the brief shutdown of the Alaska pipeline and the moratorium on further drilling we actually saw gas prices DROP going into Memorial Day Weekend.
Yes…they dropped by 10-11 cents a gallon. This on a weekend they would normally increase.

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posted May 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

“The US oil supply is so tiny that it has virtually no effect on world supplies or the general price of oil,”
so does that mean we shouldn’t be drilling in other areas?
cecelia yes they are drilling in the deep water because that is where the big plays are AND because they are not allowed to drill anywhere else. NIMBY has nothing to do with the Gulf, the folks of Texas, Louisiana, AL and MS recognize that drilling means money, as an expat Texan I love the site of oil platforms not only for what they produce but for the increased undersea life that congregates around the platforms
take a look at what is happening in North Dakota
“Too simplistic to blame it all on those naughty environmentalists”
not necessarily so. look at how long it took to approve the Cape Cod Wind farm? they environmentalists played a big role. Sand berms couldn’t be built on the sand bar islands until an environmental assessment was done. environmentalists have played a big role in why the oil companies are drilling in deep water. trust me they would much rather drill on land, the costs are significantly less
there is oil onshore and yet the government won’t let areas be drilled. did any of you follow the link? or are you just commenting on the quote? follow the link and take a look at the map.

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Richard Bottoms

posted May 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

You seem to be utterly shocked at the failure of industry friendly regulators, you know the ones who were put in place during eight years of Republican rule. Shocked at their failure to keep us safe, to put environment ahead of profit.
Remind me again, who did you vote for in 2000 & 2004?
And yes, we freaking told you so.

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Alex Russell

posted May 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Regulatory capture is the primary unsolved challenge we face in trying to have regulatory regimes. Libertarians and so on often point this out, with horrible examples. I’m with you – I believe in some enforced regulations that there are good reasons for, and I don’t believe, as libertarians tend to, that the problem with regulatory capture demonstrates that all regulatory efforts are futile folly. The real world keeps intruding with disasters, with which either deregulation or captured regulation have been complicit, but that have happened because effective regulation was needed and wasn’t there.
Meanwhile one thing I am constantly awed by, and horrified by, is the way that effective understanding and action of the problem of regulatory capture is made more difficult by the tendency of everyone to retreat from the very difficult problem of avoiding regulatory capture into the much more comfortable territory of their favorite ideas and favorite villains.
Yes, for one thing I agree about the eight years of the Bush Administration… but, for crying out loud, what then must we do, in practice? Accurately laying blame and rage doesn’t do it! How do we get clean and diligent and uncorrupted regulations and regulators?
(With all respect, the same with “the only answer to these problems is prayer and penance.” Whatever my view of prayer, penance, and souls, there’s this matter of environmental damage and corporate malfeasance and trying to find ways to avoid both…)

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posted May 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Aren’t conservatives the ones who keep saying “it’s culture?” Well, a culture of corruption like Louisiana, and a 30 year political culture of “government is incompetent” has yielded exactly that.
In Minnesota we have corruption, but it is not expected or winked at. People who feel the net closing in sometimes commit suicide out of shame,= rather than get caught. Until our most recent governor, we tended to trust government and that paid off. We are still coasting on the culture of trusting government (hmm, sound familiar?), but with a certain party taking over, it is probably just a matter of time until we are just a cold Louisiana.
You get the government you deserve.
CAPTCHA: antitank screwier

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posted May 31, 2010 at 5:23 am

BP cut far too many corners, that is it in a nut shell. How they did it is another important question. The rules were in place on BOP (blow out preventers) and fluid weight, and other tech issues but BP simply forsaked all this.
The President has been far too remote on the clean-up issue and efforts, but he is right that capping the well has to be by Big Oil.

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C.C. Saint-Clair

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:56 am

I’m definitely not into politics, and wouldn’t know how to argue with anyone who is, but the way I see it, Obama, just as every other person on a presidential hot seat, is much bigger than just one human being because we, the citizens of this country and the citizens of every other land, are right there with them inside their dark suits. These people are driven by our society’s expectations that we have mandated them to fulfil.
Sure, it’s convenient to point the finger and say, “Shame on you, Mr/Madam President whoever you are! Oh and btw, I have un-friended you!” but, now as always, I believe the accusatory finger can only be pointed at all OUR needs and at all of OUR near-sighted expectations and so I wrote a little hybrid tale loosely inspired by the legend of Pandora’s Box and the Seven Plagues of Egypt.
Deepwater Pandora Cracked Open 5, 000 ft below sea level
The admonishment, “Tame the energy of the sun, harness the energy of the wind, but what lies below must stay below or a curse shall be put on your head and on that of all who come from you,” could well have been spoken by Zeus if Hermes, back in 2001, had brought him news of the completion of the oil drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon. “For should you crack open Deepwater Pandora, a fire storm shall chase after gasses. Your generation’s greed shall be reflected in the sea and in the river. Orange under the light of the sun and orange under the mirror of the moon, they shall be. Chaos shall follow. Rain of oil will water your crops. Your birds and all that flies shall lose their wings. All that crawls shall suffocate. Alliances shall be broken. Brother shall come against brother. Harvesters of the sea shall fight and die to fill their nets. Clans shall know hunger and pain. Your most powerful leaders shall scurry like ants in a tormented nest. Mud and consumed detritus, symbols of your polluting nature, shall be your only weapon for how dare you plunder what lies below!”
On the spiritual level, stuffing the broken pipe with gross matter, more and more junk, to stem the flow of the world’s greatest environmental disaster and capping it with something as basic as cement is symbolic of how our own thought processes as individuals within the greatest herd on earth are similarly clogged up by emotional and materialistic junk.
The *solution* to stopping the flow is a clear illustration of our unwillingness to create fresh connections within our neural net from which to begin rethinking thinking – and this long-engrained inability has a lot more to do with us, all of 6 billion + people on the planet today than with Obama.
And, sure, the *solution* can only fail, just as we keep failing in our search for happiness.

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posted May 31, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Now is the time to ask “why are we drilling at 5,000 foot depths?” could it be due to government regulations and environmentalism? Charles Krauthammer asks that question today in his column in the WashPost,
Because oil companies never cause oil spills anywhere else!
It’s a shame environmentalism is only vindicated by catastrophe, because I really should be able to claim at least some joy in being proven right time after time after time.
The deregulatory / Reaganite political experiment has failed. We have got to stop acting like we need to deregulate businesses to solve every problem. Deregulated business is the problem.
Captcha: “graving continued,” chillingly.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Oy — year 5 of explaining this: Katrina was an act of God on the Mississippi Coast, where a 20-foot surge swamped all but the highest land. Katrina was an act of God in the area of the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, where the surge topped 20-foot levees.
In New Orleans, where the surge was about 6-8 feet — the kind you can get with a minor hurricane — Katrina’s flooding was primarily from engineering failures. In Lakeview, 20-foot levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers failed without the water ever reaching the top — they were built on swamp and the pilings that serve as their central structures were not driven into solid ground, but only protruded out of the top to give the illusion of protection. Without the proper foundation, the levees on the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal were just shoved out of the way.
In the Lower 9th Ward, the same ill-considered navigation canals that flooded the area in 1965 were allowed to remain in place despite 40 years of protests by locals asking the Army Corps to fill them in. (40 years too late, the Corps has finally closed the main one.) Those two major canals provided a highway for Gulf water to bypass the network of slow-flowing bayous and shoot the surge through ever-narrowing spaces until the two flows combined and topped the levees.
Captcha: Strangle 14

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