Solve The Problem First

The drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent massive oil leak continues to make daily headlines in all media forms. The impacts and fallouts from this disaster will continue to be felt for some time.

As this magazine was going to press, the first of the intersect wells was being connected while the back-up neared the location as well. We can only hope by the time of publication, this relief well has successfully plugged the out-of-control well and clean-up efforts are proceeding with speed, efficiency and effectiveness.

At the heart of the maelstrom is BP. There is no shortage of lynch mobs wanting BP’s neck. The government, unlike their other actions in dealing with the disaster, wasted no time in their finger pointing, quickly assembling investigative teams and initiating Congressional hearings among other things.

But is now really the time for punitive measures and knee-jerk reactions that have far ranging impacts beyond BP? There is an environmental – and potentially economic – disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that needs the entire focus of BP and our nation’s resources. I, for one, would prefer BP leaders to concentrate all their efforts, energies and resources into controlling and stopping the leak along with containing and cleaning up the oil spill. Once that’s accomplished, then is the time to fully pursue investigative actions and/or other necessary measures.

Government actions seem to indicate BP acted purposefully and criminally to cause the accident. I find it hard to believe that BP – or any corporation for that matter, intentionally wanted to squander $40 or $50 billion (and counting). Board of directors and stockholders tend to frown on that.

So, is BP guilty of some nefarious, criminal intent? Highly unlikely. But guilty of negligence? Probably.

Some things did go right when the explosion occurred — people survived. Eleven crew members died tragically as the result of explosion. But what we don’t hear about at the many people who survived, largely unscathed. BP holds three to four drills every week on the vessels to ensure that people know exactly where to go and what to do if an emergency abandon ship alarm is sounded. People working on the floating platform were consistently drilled to immediately stop what they are doing and rush to their evacuation vessels. As workers move about the vessel, they are trained to always be aware of the location of the nearest evacuation life boat in relation to their position on the ship. When the explosion happened, that training worked perfectly. Workers, in a matter of seconds, fled the ship in an orderly manner. Those seconds were the difference between the deaths of 11 people as opposed to 75.

As for the accident itself, the odds of several emergency shutoff systems failing at the same time were astronomical, but that’s exactly what happened. What, why and how needs to be resolved: this loss of life and subsequent ecological disaster can’t be allowed to happen again.

But shutting down an industry – and an essential one at that – is not the solution. The six-month drilling moratorium appears to be no more than an attempt to rescue public face as does that environmentally-tilted commission tasked with investigating the issue. Granted, a federal judge did lift the ban, saying the federal government severely overstepped its authority, but remember the Minerals Management Service and virtually all of the offshore agencies are in the process of being drastically overhauled. Even if appeals support the ruling to overturn the ban, federal agencies can – and are – dragging out the allowing drilling to resume, probably for months or longer.

An effective analogy is the airline industry. When there is a plane crash with loss of life, an all-out investigation is pursued to determine what went wrong and if such an incident prevented in the future. But airplanes keep flying as that industry is critical to our nation.

The energy industry is no less vital – and not just for fuel. The impact of petrochemicals permeates every fiber of our lives – literally. For just one example, think plastics. And remember, for every barrel of oil not obtained from U.S. sources, that’s one more barrel we have to import, steadily increasing our already huge reliance on foreign oil.

I can’t help but wonder how much further along the process could have been had government bungling and interference not been such a major factor. Did we learn nothing from Hurricane Katrina?

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