Monday, July 12, 2010


BURBANK, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  An Exxon gas stati...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
There is a great article in the New York Times about BP. There is a panoramic feel to the article. It tries to look at BP from many different angles. I am going to quote from it at length, and I am going to comment on it.

New York Times: In BP’s Record, a History of Boldness and Costly Blunders
Despite a catalog of crises and near misses in recent years, BP has been chronically unable or unwilling to learn from its mistakes, an examination of its record shows. ...... In little more than a decade, BP grew from a middleweight into the industry’s second-largest company, behind only Exxon Mobil, with soaring profits, fat dividends and a share price to match. ...... From its base in London, the company struck bold deals in politically volatile areas like Angola and Azerbaijan and pushed technology to the limit in the remotest reaches of Alaska and the deepest waters of the Gulf of Mexico — “the tough stuff that others cannot or choose not to do,” as its chief executive, Tony Hayward, once put it. ....... an incredibly complicated set of events with individual decisions and equipment failures that led to a very complicated industrial accident ...... BP was born in 1908 when a rich Englishman named William Knox D’Arcy struck oil in Iran and formed the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Treating the locals as little more than imperial subjects, the company, partly owned by the British government, expanded across the region, its fortunes intertwined with those of the British Empire. ........ Unlike some of his more cautious competitors, Mr. Browne ignored small projects and went after the riskiest, most expensive and potentially most lucrative ventures — “elephants,” in industry jargon. Under him, BP’s share price more than doubled and its cash dividend tripled, making it a darling of investors. ....... he became the toast of Britain’s business world and was made a knight and member of the House of Lords ....... “I transformed a company, challenged a sector, and prompted political and business leaders to change.” ...... March 23, 2005, when 15 people died and more than 170 were injured in America’s worst industrial accident in a generation: a huge fire and explosion at Texas City. ...... A year later, there was a new calamity: 267,000 gallons of oil leaked from BP’s network of pipelines in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. ....... The near sinking of Thunder Horse in 2005 was caused by a shockingly simple mistake: a check valve had been installed backward 
My first reaction when the disaster struck was to try to put it on the geopolitical map. This was an environmental 9/11 with no Bin Laden in the picture. No one person could be blamed, but an entire civilization should be.

But I have only a layperson's knowledge of the details, of what has happened, of what all happened that led to the crisis in the first place.

This has been an accident. This is the magnitude of the Space Shuttle exploding. This was big. And when something like this happens, there is a lot of Monday quarterbacking. Cleaning up had to happen. BP needed to compensate those who needed to be compensated. But this disaster could not be measured in dollar terms.

Money is in the human realm. Money, stock prices, business cycles are human, they are artificial. What had happened was at that borderline where humanity interacts with Mother Nature. The entire pond that is the Gulf had been messed up for a long, long time. There is no cleaning that. There is no compensating that.

I have seen a lot of diagrams and a lot of amateur videos suggesting how best to unplug the leaks. They all have uniformly missed one fundamental point. The pressures at those depths are huge. You are not at sea level pressure.

We saw the oil that surfaced. But we will never account for the Amazon forests we have destroyed down there. We know much more about outer space than we do about our ocean depths.

Too bad this is how democracy works. We need a big accident like this one to jolt the population to seriously start thinking in terms of a zero emissions future. You need something this big, and this bad to finally make the emotional connect among people to do the right thing. We should be able to do better than that. Intellectual extrapolations should be good enough reason.

BP is responsible, and it needs to take responsibility. But this goes beyond BP. The Gulf Oil Spill is a civilization level incident.

Gulf Oil Spill
A Dirty Bomb Just Went Off In The Gulf

New York Times: Cap Connector Is Installed on BP Well
a new cap that could contain all of the oil spewing from its out-of-control well in the Gulf of Mexico ..... If all goes as planned, the new cap will be lowered on top of the pipe and connected with a tight seal. ..... The new cap should eventually enable BP to contain all of the oil from the well, estimated at up to 60,000 barrels a day ..... a relief well that will be used to stop the leak and permanently seal the well was on pace to intercept the blown-out well at the end of the month, and that the procedure to stop the flow of oil by pumping mud into the well, followed by cement, could take several weeks after that.
New York Times: Tests to Determine if Cap Will Halt Oil
effectively ending the three-month gusher. ..... there could be delays, especially if ice-like crystals of methane and water form when the new cap is put on. .... Given the number of engineering efforts that have failed .... the first relief well was now only about five feet away horizontally from the runaway well.
New York Times: Anti-Car Crusade, Fueled by Gulf Spill, Takes a Station Hostage
“People have to be motivated and give up some of these comforts,” said Janel Sterbentz, a 32-year-old demonstrator from San Jose who said she had never owned a car..... an opportunity to push the environmental movement further — beyond merely green, mass transit first, or pro-cycling. ...... For some, the mission now is anti-car. ..... “We need to use less fossil fuels,” he said. “We need to have simpler lives.” .... “We need to treat people who are addicted to their cars like people with an illness, people who are sick, rather than people who are intentionally destroying the planet,” he said. ...... He has not owned a car since 1999 and stopped flying in 2006 when he took trains and a cargo ship to travel to graduate school in England. ....... the toll automobiles take on society is greater than drivers pay. ...... “Would they have said to the abolitionists, ‘You should tone down the rhetoric?’ ”
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