Friday, May 14, 2010

Let’s Get Some Perspective People

This is a guest post from a friend of mine, Drew. A few nights ago, he made some very good points about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I asked him to write up something for my website and he was kind enough to agree. I think this is a very interesting view point. Thank you, Drew. Enjoy!

The recent tragedy on the Transocean Rig Deepwater Horizon has only further soured me on the state of the American Media and our current political landscape.

It has been an unfortunate display of political point scoring. To be fair and in the interest of full disclosure, I work for a direct competitor of Transocean in the offshore drilling industry. To that end I perhaps may understand the events a little bit better than most of the general public. Please allow me a brief primer on offshore drilling.

BP contracted with Transocean to drill an exploratory well. Transocean drilled this well and were in the process of cementing it closed when the well "Kicked." What this means is that a pocket of Methane gas escaped up the well shaft. This is all we know for certain other than 11 men lost their lives when this happened.

Now we have an uncapped well that is spilling 4,100 barrels per day.. This is an environmental tragedy as well. The problem is that the media is behaving like teenagers with a juicy new rumor about the kid they don't like. They are leading the charge to make the story worse than it actually is and the politicians of Washington are all too happy to go along with it.

Much is being made of the oil being released. The same story I have referenced talks about the type of Oil being particularly bad as well. What you have not been told by anyone in this whole rush to judgment, is that the Gulf of Mexico has twice the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill (250,000 barrels for the Valdez) seep into its waters every year! That is 500,000 barrels of Crude oil every year from just natural seepage.

Does that exonerate BP and Transocean? Of course not. What it does do is provide some much needed perspective. That perspective being that this is an ecosystem that is used to this type of substance. Using the Valdez as a comparison is at its heart, a lie and a tactic to demonize. The Valdez spill took place in an area that has an ecosystem that was never exposed to such a calamity.

In addition we hear about BP's "History of negligence" in the news. Well they have had two foul-ups that everyone is reporting on. First, is the refinery explosion in Texas City and the second in the Pipeline Corrosion incident in Prudhoe Bay. These two instances can arguably be blamed on negligence. So that is two times since 2005 that BP has been negligent.

Let's apply that same standard to our personal lives shall we? Say you enjoy playing texas hold 'em with your friends. Say you aren't that good. If you lose your money twice in five years this same standard in the media would mean you have a "History of Gambling problems."

What about other areas? How about the Post Office? They certainly had more incidents of workplace violence (20 incidents from 1986 to 1997) than what could be reasonably explained and yet we don't hear about the US Postal Service's "History of violence."

The whole point is that the media has an agenda it is advancing. It continues to perpetuate a myth that Oil Companies are out to do harm in order to make a profit. Politicians should be scolded and held accountable for their childish behavior on this issue (and many others). They are supposed to be the ones who are mature about this situation and have clear heads about how to proceed. Instead we get sound bites like "[It is] a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," from the President.

What ever happened to leadership?


pack04 said...

Drew thank you for the information on this issue. I know how hard it can be to be in a field where you know more than is getting "reported" and how incorrect those "reports" are. I work in the bridge maintenance and inspection field. August 1, 2007, the I-35W bridge collapse, brought out lots of "reports" that caused my office lots of time explaining lots of things. It was and has been very frustrating ever since.

Leadership is gone. Saying the "right thing" has replaced it. Reporting, responsible or irresponsible, is gone. Getting words out the quickest and with the most shock is the most important. Ultimately it comes back to us. It is our responsibility. Leadership is gone but we keep electing the same non-leaders. Reporting is gone because we are so drawn in by "BREAKING NEWS" headlines. They sell us what we want.

the anonymous guy said...

Let's see who "understands the events a little bit better than most of the general public."

I'm planting a flag here on 16 May, 2010: when the oil was gushing out under the Gulf of Mexico, Andy and his buddy ask us to "get some perspective" and not make such a big deal out of this (you know, postal workers shoot people so relax about the oil). Let's see how history (and the Gulf waters, and the tourism and fishing industries) treat that "perspective."

I know where I stand: it's time to start closing down offshore drilling.

The money we will spend cleaning up this one explosion and spill would have been a great downpayment on an offshore wind farm. Add to that the $ we spend on cleaning up the air, mopping up our oil wars, mitigating climate change, and protecting oil sheikdoms and we could be rich in renewable energy--if we'd kick this stupid habit. We would be on our way there if it weren't for the oil-rich repubs (and some dems).

But the only thing the repubs seem to be able to say YES to is oil.

Andy D said...

Again, thank you,Drew. I think it is important to keep this in perspective.

Anonymous, I think the exact wrong thing to do in this case is to rush to stop all offshore drilling. I have seen that we get 25% of our oil from the Gulf of Mexico. Let's pretend your "off-shore" ban won't drive energy prices through the roof in the current economy. There are a number of other countries, including Russia, that will simply laugh at your ban, and continue to do their own drilling. Your ban will make little environmental impact, drive energy prices up, and adversely affect those the Democrats claim to love: the poor.

Anytime we use a crisis to legislate, we are asking for trouble.

I think a much more sensible thing to do is:

1) Get the mess cleaned up.
2) Figure out what went wrong.
3) Evaluate IF any new legislation or regulation is needed.

I think Pack will agree that this isn't the sexiest approach, and the news may not like it. But it is a reasonable approach.

pack04 said...

I don't care if it is the sexiest approach. It is the approach that makes sense.

Is this awful what happened? Yes. Should we investigate and invest in other energy types? Yes. Should we stop drilling because of an accident? No.

Do we stop using bridges because some fail? No. Do we still fly even though there are many crashes a year? Yes.

This failure gives us the opportunity to learn. (no I do not suggest that we drill more so that we learn more) Learning gives us a chance to create. Invention and learning give us the opportunity to address both the positive and negative of this situation.

Patrick said...

You know, I agree that when things like this happen, it's important to gain a little perspective, but that's about the extent of my agreement with Drew.

It's true that the 24/7 media sensationalize everything, but this case warrants scrutiny. When you are a billion-dollar company that originally estimates a 1,000 barrel a day leakage, which no one can duplicate the results, and then come up with 3 failed attempts to fix the leak (some with hair-brained ideas --- stop it up with trash), something's up. There is also an issue with how the 5,000 barrels is calculated. It’s believed that BP is not estimating enough thickness to calculate the volume of oil emanating from the leak. Of course, I understand it’s every engineer’s job to prove another wrong, but the calculation of the amount of barrels is very sensitive to the thickness, because the area covered. So, is it safe to say that the estimation by BP may not be conservative enough? According to many running the same calculations, yes.

Alaska is still feeling the effects of the Exxon Valdez, which is immeasurable. Do we want the same thing for the Gulf? There is a major difference between oil seeping into the Gulf over a one-year period, and a massive amount of oil impacting the same area in a few weeks time. It's the same concept as the difference between a concentrated load and a distributed load. Both add up to the same force, but the deflections (deformations to the system) are worse with the concentrated load. (Bit primitive with the analogy, but you get the point.)

As far as the I-35 bridge collapse, it was determined that there could have been repairs done to the bridge that may have prevented the collapse. Of course, media panic did play a role in people questioning Georgia’s bridges. However, I’m sure any answers or estimates given by Pack04 concerning the health of the State’s bridges were more conservative and more thought out than that of BP. The process of determining a bridge’s integrity is more of an exact science than deep sea drilling. It’s true that it’s an engineering feat to fix a leak one-mile underwater, but if you’re going to do the drilling, you need to have a plan that works for a case such as this.

Andy D said...

Pack and Patrick,

I think both of you raise some interesting points. The important first step is to clean up the mess, then figure out what is going wrong. I think saying we should stop all offshore drilling simply makes no sense. People arguing that view point really do need some perspective, or they have another political agenda they are trying to push.

the anonymous guy said...

Actually, I think Andy's position makes some sense--especially given his "perspective" that denies the scientific account of anthropogenic climate change.

I'm not arguing that we should close down offshore drilling just because of this one (massive) explosion, sinking, and spill. I think we should have banned it long ago for many reasons, including "accidents" like this.

But I do agree that we ought to gather all the "non-sexy" facts just like Andy suggested (something BP is trying to prevent) and then determine a course of action.

(Of course, some of the scientific facts will include anthropogenic climate change, which is something Andy denies...)

The problem with Drew's post about "getting perspective" is that it takes oil wars, climate change, military budgets, asthma, cancer, and the actual amount of oil spilling (somewhere around five-to-sixteen times more than what BP was reporting) etc., *out* of the perspective. So whose perspective will we use? The one with scientific and economic blinders on? Or the whole, big picture?

pack04 said...

I can understand that BP would understate the amount of oil leaking. John Edwards understated his involvement with his girlfriend. It is not uncommon.

I do have one question for anonymous guy. Where are you getting your five-to-sixteen times more value? Are you reading that from a writer who has a perspective of asthma is caused by off shore drilling? Or are you out there 1 mile down measuring the flow rate out? If you are out there stop bitching and start plugging.

Patrick, your analogy is weak and probably misapplied. If nothing else you should argue not about distributed loads verses point loads but that fact that a distributed load could not be doubled. It is fair to say that the gulf can handle a set amount of oil due to seepage, but it cannot handle double the seepage. Just like a bridge could handle 80,000 pounds over 40 feet and 80,000 pounds over 10 feet but it could not handle 160,000 pounds.

Additionally, both Patrick and anonymous guy seem to have a predisposed thought that BP is evil. That they sit up there in the ivory tower and make decisions based on screwing people and screwing the environment as their number one reason for having a business. I just can't believe that is true. I believe BP is making a good faith effort to correct this disaster due to an accident. Where are the other two companies involved with this drilling operation?

pack04 said...

damn I forgot one comment.
I might have missed something but I think Andy was suggesting that we collect all the information on the explosion and oil spill. Anonymous guy you are going off on climate change as a result of oil leaking into the gulf. I am going to have to see some data on how that happens. You are doing exactly what Drew, Andy and I have talked about. You are deflecting and missing the point. This post was on the issue of the leak, not global warming. The thing here is shutting down all oil drilling or just off shore oil drilling will not stop this oil from leaking. Lets address and use our government to focus on the clean up efforts. Then learn what went wrong. How to prevent it from happening again. You can use this issue in the future in the global warming arguments.

Talk about being a party of just say no and having the exact same talking points. Look at yourself anonymous guy. Nothing about global warming in the post but all you can do is talk about that, your opinion is stated and noted many times. Broaden your point of view and have some interesting comments on something else. You are starting to go from anonymous guy to annoying guy in my mind. You have differing opinions on how you view global warming from me. I would like to see your opinions on other issues. I actually learn from reading and understanding another persons point of view. I am not one of those fall inline and follow the chant kind of people.

the anonymous guy said...

Like I wrote, I appreciate the across-the-board interest in finding out the fact in the case, as expressed by posters on this site.

How do we feel about BP and the Obama Coast Guard teaming up to arrest news crews who are simply photographing oil-polluted beaches?

Patrick said...

Hey Pack-

How's the view from that ivory tower? I love your assumptions and your missinterpretation of my statements.

My issue with the situation is that it took so long just to come up with a fix. Would your boss give you the same time? Doubt it. Considering the possible environmental ramifacations, a company with the capabilities of BP should be able to fix this faster. It has nothing to do with BP being evil. Of course, I guess speaking out against a company's actions deems me irrational, correct? I don't recall me saying offshore drilling should go away or anything else to that fact.

And you missed the point of my analogy, but like I said, it's every engineer's job to try to prove the other wrong. The rate of dispersal for the natural seepage would be much lower, allowing the gulf to handle it. If you take the same amount of oil and force it into the gulf within a 30-day period, then you have a substantially greater impact on the environment. Therefore, it's more about distribution, not amount of force.

Also, we both know that it's not necessarily true that a bridge that can handle a 80 kip load over 40 feet, can also handle the same load over 10 feet. That'll reduce your substructure rating. :)

Patrick said...

one more thing.....

I question companies for one major reason.

The USA has so many regulatory agencies and personnel dedicated to making sure companies comply with the law. Why is that? B/c companies cut corners to make a buck. Not all companies do so, but it happens. If you want to give them all of your trust, be my guest, but I won't.

Andy D said...

First, thanks to all of you for the comments, I have really enjoyed this discussion.

Patrick and Anon,

I don't intend to sound like I don't believe this case warrants some scrutiny. There are a number of questions that I have about this:
Why didn't the emergency shut off work? Did BP know that something was wrong with the well and fail to act? Was this even within BP's ability to control? Why did the Obama administration take so long to respond? Why did they not implement standing procedures that might could have prevented some of the damage?

I don't want to sound like either BP or the Obama administration should be given a free pass. I do think we need to find all the facts first.

Andy D said...

Anonymous Guy,

I have been trying to think of some good reason that the news should be prevented from filming the beaches. The only thing I can come up with is that the specific beaches they were going to try to film might be private property?? If their not, I can't think of any reason that BP and the Obama administration should be working together to suppress the news.

Andy D said...


Thanks for the comments too. I think you brought up a number of good points. This really doesn't have anything to do with global warming. And I do agree that we should get the facts first, then see who may or may not be to blame. I am not going to sit here and say it's all BP's fault until we know what caused the explosion that killed eleven people first.

the anonymous guy said...

First, it is good to see everybody on here wanting to get all the facts. But it looks to me like both BP and (I hate to see it) the Obama administration are trying to keep a lot of the facts hidden.

To slightly edit the post's headline, and to answer a question: "Let's get some (scientific) perspective people."

And, y'all. If you don't think petroleum production is related to climate change...

Patrick said...


There are certainly lots of questions to be asked in this oil spill. The fail safe did not work b/c it was non-functional. It was not inspected prior to this accident. (This is what I've read so far.) There's definitely a lot of blame to go around, not just BP. But, at least BP is doing something to correct the situation.

I also don't think it's fair that people are attacking the administration for not responding sooner. I think if the administration immediately jumped into the situation, we'd have people criticizing Obama for hindering BP in it's clean-up effort, and also wondering why he's not concentrating on jobs or immigration instead.

Just one more thing. Senators are on their soapboxes criticizing the head of regulation, but aren't companies supposed to do right, and not need so much regulation?

Andy D said...


I think BP and the Obama administration are both in damage control mode. When strong Democrats like James Carville say that the President is doing a bad job responding to this, you know he's in trouble.

I think this discussion is going well, I don't want it to dissolve into a global warming argument. If you want, I can start a new post for that.


We don't know what went wrong here, but I suspect additional regulation wouldn't have helped. In our blame first and ask questions later society, we forget that sometimes accident's happen. There is no way to legislate against that. The Obama administration was on the cusp of giving BP a safety award for this very rig and changed their mind after the accident. We should get this fixed, then look at what went wrong and if there was anything that could be done to avoid it. However, I think we should also examine if the Obama administration responded as quickly as they should have. This is one of the few instances we need the federal government's involvement, and I am not sure they did everything they could have.

the anonymous guy said...

Andy, it is interesting to have libs here critiquing BP and Obama, and cons considering increased federal regulation. There seems to be some shared insight... Kudos to you for hosting such a discussion.

Here's another non-political scientific case that estimates the current damage and calls for greater oversight of the disaster.

One thing I'd caution against is being too quick to repeat the Rand Paulism, "accidents happen." We used to have a lot more deadly auto "accidents" but because of safety advances mandated by the government (often over the complaints of automakers), we survive these "accidents" a lot more. Yes "accidents" with oil (and with nuclear power, etc) will happen, but we can be smart about preventing them, and making them less harmful. But that's going to take money and some oversight.

Or we could switch more quickly to less dangerous forms of power.

Patrick said...

Would Drew care to review his perspective now?