Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Illusion of safety

It's ironic. The US is spending bizillions of dollars on defense in order to protect ourselves against a few fanatics hiding in the badlands of Pakistan.

But not even a fraction of that sense of caution applies to deepwater drilling in the minds of many of the state and local officials in the Gulf states most directly affected by the BP oil disaster.

Mary Perez reports in Holloway tells commission, nation of Coast’s latest woes Biloxi Sun-Herald 07/13/1020 on the testimony of Biloxi (MS) mayor A.J. Holloway's testimony to the ponderously titled National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Gulf Drilling. Ole AyJay told them:

Although he doesn't favor a moratorium on drilling, Holloway said, "I know that we must have safeguards in place so that this never happens again."
But the problems he described fairly graphically for the Commission resulting from the BP oil disaster are the real-world downside risk of deepwater drilling. The existing technology can't immediately seal off a damaged well like the Deepwater Horizon's. It's yet to be demonstrated that it can be sealed off at all, though everyone hopes the latest cap will work.


When a company like BP cuts corners on safety and kills 11 of its workers, as the Deepwater Horizon explosion did, a government that really represents the public instead of oil lobbies would hold them accountable and also step up efforts to make sure safety regulations are obeyed.

And in the case of deepwater drilling (in current federal usage, more than 500 ft. of water, we have seen for the last three months that there are huge downside risks, and that when a blowout like this occurs current technology cannot plug the leak quickly.

And the BP disaster has meant damage that will last for years to the mutibillion-dollar fishing and tourist industries and is poisoning the food web in the Gulf. (See Matthew Brown and Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Scientists say Gulf spill altering food web AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald 07/14/2010.

Since those underwater oil plumes are literally unprecedented in their depth and size, we don't even know what the downside risks of those are yet, even assuming the oil gusher can be contained soon. Continuing deepwater drilling under current conditions would be reckless because there are very real risks to lives, property, jobs and quality of life involved in it that the oil industry very clearly can't contain to anything like reasonable levels.

Some of the public officials involved talk more like professional oil lobbyists (MS Gov. Haley Barbour, LA Gov. Bobby Jindal) or like the town official in Jaws who refused to close the beaches even though they knew there was danger to the public. Sasha Chavkin, for instance, blogged for ProPublica last week that Despite Tar Balls and Health Complaints, Florida Beaches Stay Open 07/09/2010.

The latest news makes me wonder whether the feds may have become aware that BP's optimistic assurances on the latest effort to stanch the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico may be insufficient: Erika Bolstad, All work to plug BP's spill halted in Gulf McClatchy Newspapers 07/14/2010:

At the government's insistence, BP postponed crucial testing last night on its most recent effort to cap the well that's been gushing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months.

In addition, the drilling of the relief wells — considered the most likely method to permanently seal the blownout well — was halted.

The action came amid uncertainty over the condition of the crippled well, along with a concern about the effect of additional pressure from the new — albeit temporary — containment cap could compromised the well's integrity and the company's efforts to complete the relief wells. The sealing cap, placed over the top of the well on Monday, was not set to be fully deployed until the testing was complete. [my emphasis]
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