Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil spill: Catastrophic failure of imagination

BP Oil Spill: Failure of Imagination
Imagination: The oil blob drawing I made the other night to overlay on the TV picture of President Obama giving his Oval Office address. My imagination fell far short. The reality is so much worse.

It wasn't just my imagination that failed. A catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of BP, the government and our entire society paved the way for this disaster to happen and, indeed, made it damn near inevitable.

We've become complacent because oil drilling in much shallower waters -- despite the occasional nasty spill -- has never resulted in anything as disastrous as this. Drilling in 300 feet of water on the continental shelf is almost like drilling on land in comparison to real deep-water drilling. The pressures -- thousands of pounds per square inch -- and the unknowns escalate exponentially underneath a mile of water. You might as well be drilling on Jupiter.

Nobody wanted to think about what was obvious with even a layman's knowledge of physics and engineering and just a bit of common sense. Plenty of people warned that drilling at that depth was potentially disastrous, that we did not have the systems in place to ensure that failure could not happen, or could be controlled if it did happen. Nobody paid attention.

As a society, we wanted to continue our addiction to fossil fuels, no matter the cost -- and if it required drilling in places where our existing technology would be stretched to the breaking point, so be it. Besides, how bad could a spill be, way off shore like that? Ditto, BP and their concern for their bottom line. Ditto, Barack Obama, who proposed resumed Gulf drilling when he campaigned as a compromise that would build support for his energy reforms by meeting the "drill, baby, drill" crowd halfway. I know I wasn't immune to this kind of thinking. When the Obama campaign advocated new Gulf drilling, it was an eyebrow-raiser for me. I didn't like it, but I could see where he was coming from, and, besides, it would probably be okay.

Nothing puzzled me as much about his Oval Office speech as these words:
A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe –- that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken. That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why. The American people deserve to know why.
We know why, Mr. President. That's what's so sad.

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