Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lemming Tracks: BP, the Gulf of Mexico, Oil, and - Walruses?!

This could be filed under "YOU - HAVE - GOT - TO - BE - KIDDING!"

"BP's error-prone spill response plans overstate preparedness, understate dangers"
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (June 9 2010)

"Professor Peter Lutz is listed in BP's 2009 response plan for a Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a national wildlife expert. He died in 2005.

"Under the heading 'sensitive biological resources,' the plan lists marine mammals including walruses, sea otters, sea lions and seals. None lives anywhere near the Gulf.

"The names and phone numbers of several Texas A&M University marine life specialists are wrong. So are the numbers for marine mammal stranding network offices in Louisiana and Florida, which are no longer in service.

"BP PLC's 582-page regional spill plan for the Gulf, and its 52-page, site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig are riddled with omissions and glaring errors, according to an Associated Press analysis that details how BP officials have pretty much been making it up as they go along. The lengthy plans approved by the federal government last year before BP drilled its ill-fated well vastly understate the dangers posed by an uncontrolled leak and vastly overstate the company's preparedness to deal with one...."

It's not just British Petroleum. Some federal worker apparently signed off on a plan that seems to have included an explanation of how walruses in the Gulf of Mexico would be taken care of.


On the Gulf of Mexico?!!!

In a zoo, maybe. But you're as likely to see a wild walrus on the Alabama coast, as you are to see elephant herds roaming the plains of Minnesota. Or polar bears basking on the ice floes of Uganda.

How Could a Report Like That be Approved?

I suppose allowances should be made.

Federal employees are, I'm sure, mostly well-intentioned folks who are just trying to make a living. Over the decades, I've had pretty good experiences with federal employees.

However, the last time I applied for a job with the federal government, my application was weighed according to a well-defined point system. Some of the points came from how well my skills and background matched those of the job. But quite a few points came from factors that had nothing to do with job performance, like who my ancestors were.

BP, British Petroleum, is a British company. They probably employ Americans, but the outfit is, as the name says, British - with corporate headquarters in London. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if they had entrusted a vital report like that "walruses of the Gulf" thing to an expert. A nice, trusted, British expert. Someone whose residence was a place like Hillingdon Heath or South Oxney.

A proper Englishman might not readily appreciate the difference in scale between the British Isles and North America. There is considerably more distinction between coastal Alaska and the Gulf shore of Louisiana than there there is between Liverpool and Southampton.

Or, maybe BP intentionally filed a bogus report made with a dead man's help. Assuming, correctly, that it would be rubber-stamped by some federal employee who can't, in practice, be fired.

It Gets Better - or Worse

Back to that AP article:

"...In the spill scenarios detailed in the documents, fish, marine mammals and birds escape serious harm; beaches remain pristine; water quality is only a temporary problem. And those are the projections for a leak about 10 times worse than what has been calculated for the ongoing disaster.

"Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, La., says there are '3,000 acres (of wetlands) where life as we know it is dead, and we continue to lose precious marshland every day.'

"There are other wildly false assumptions. BP's proposed method to calculate spill volume based on the darkness of the oil sheen is way off. The internationally accepted formula would produce estimates 100 times higher.

"The Gulf's loop current, which is projected to help eventually send oil hundreds of miles around Florida's southern tip and up the Atlantic coast, isn't mentioned in either plan.

"The website listed for Marine Spill Response Corp. - one of two firms that BP relies on for equipment to clean a spill - links to a defunct Japanese-language page...."

I have nothing against Japan, per se. I can easily imagine that a London-based company operating in one of the former colonies might reasonably decide to contract some of the work out to a Japanese company. That's not the issue, as far as I'm concerned.

It's like the dead man who's supposed to have helped BP write that report. Japanese companies that I'm aware of, which deal with people in English-speaking countries, maintain English-language websites. Which, as a rule, are still online.

Listing a website that isn't in English - and which disappears by the time someone takes a hard look at the report - is just plain not prudent.

Who is More Foolish? The Fool, or the Fool Who Relies on Him?

I can, sort of, see BP's point of view. Their executives may, based on observations of America's federal employees, assumed that any hooey would do, as long as there were lots of pages in a report. Still, I think it's apparent that relying on federal foolishness to maintain a business's operations was - not prudent.

British Petroleum's execs should have realized that they were in a comparatively high-risk business - and that most Americans are not fools.

Also, that when something went wrong, those Americans would find out. We're not living in the 'good old days' when embarrassing little mistakes could be politely ignored or smoothed over. The 'good old boys' network of information gatekeepers doesn't have the monopoly it once had.

Which is fine by me.

Maybe BP Really Didn't Get It

I'd still like to think that British Petroleum isn't run by clueless nitwits who had no idea that one of their drilling operations might not work quite as it should.

Given the way they're trying another, bigger, cap for the broken drilling site: they may really want to get control of the mess they're making. They may even succeed.

And, given that the gusher is under a mile of water, and is the sort of problem we didn't have a century ago, I'm quite willing to assume that the task is difficult.

But that report? Who did they think they were going to fool, in the long run?

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