White Coat Underground

It’s not my fault!

You know that big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?  It turns out that the folks who drilled it, the folks who pumped it, and the folks who worked on it weren’t at fault—at least according to their sworn congressional testimony.  And I sure as hell know it’s not my fault.  I mean, I do commute to work alone in my car, and I do like my air conditioner.  And my livelihood depends to a certain extent on an auto industry whose mileage standards haven’t really changed in the last few decades.  But it’s not my fault.

Anything as complex as drilling for oil a mile under the ocean thousands of times over is going to go wrong from time to time.  It may very well turn out that some corporate idiot—because corporations are just like individuals and can be idiots—cut corners to get us our yummy, yummy crude.  And we love every drop of it.  We’re perfectly happy to change nothing about our way of life to prevent this sort of disaster.  If bp, or Halliburton, or some Jean Doe from the Bayou was behind this, we share their culpability.  This was no accident—it was an inevitable result of our hunger for oil.

Comments

  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    May 12, 2010

    I used to work for BP. Make no mistake, they cut corners on safety. They always have. (I keep expecting to hear about some enormous explosion at one of their facilities in S. America or Africa any day now.) They make a huge song & dance about how safety conscious they are (especially in the UK and Norwegian waters, with the level of regulation here after Piper Alpha), and they do huge internal publicity campaigns about how much they care, REALLY!!! about safety — but they are unwilling to spend money on anything more expensive than posters. They cut personnel to the absolute bare minimum, to the point that they only barely comply with regulations on how many hours a week personnel can work. They put a tremendous amount of pressure on the personnel they retain to meet goals on a certain timescale, all the while preaching at them how they should be 100% safety compliant — more time and shorter shifts would ACTUALLY be the way to ensure that people are safety compliant, and not having pressured, sleep-deprived inexperienced people making vital decisions; but that would mean keeping more people on the payroll, including experienced personnel who for some reason seem to want more money. They cut disaster response teams, and then they cut them again, from 24/7 multi-person standby to “automated systems” which were supposed to raise and track alerts. And they skirt the edge of feasability with equipment maintenance — just enough to comply with the law, generally. You’d never know it to hear them tell it, but I’ve seen the systems which track the daily small leaks from their facilities, and I’ve been out on the rigs. Hell, I’ve seen one HSE officer who was a genuinely good and dedicated man literally crying into his beer.

    I know Bob Andrews, who founded Industrial Emergency Services LLC, very well, have known him for years. He has refused to take any contract from BP because of what he’s seen on inspection tours of their facilities.

    I had thought that oversight and regulation in US waters was better than it seems to actually be. Given the level of oversight which they managed to free themselves from after all, I cannot say I’m surprised something has gone badly wrong. Heartbroken, yes. But not surprised.

    Yes, we have a dangerous addiction to oil and oil products, and we are all complicit in this to a frightening degree. But extraction and refining can be done far, far better than this. Shell have managed it. This wasn’t inevitable with good practice.

  2. #2 Bob
    May 12, 2010

    Luna – if I wanted to see the environmental impact & safety analysis reports or emergency response plans for offshore platforms, where should I look first?

    I work in the nuclear industry and I’m very familiar with the documentation each powerplant has to have on file and where the public can get to it (libraries near the plants, federal repository libraries, the NRC, etc.) Surely offshore platforms are held to a similar standard of analysis and documentation.

    As someone who does engineering risk assessment for a living, I’d like to become more familiar with petroleum technology, design, safety, and regulation. I’m very curious how we got to this point – it’s not like the Piper Alpha disaster happened yesterday.

  3. #3 Jared
    May 12, 2010

    Bob, extremely deep water wells with methane hydrates are a fairly new issue; new procedures may be needed for addressing the unique problems these present. The procedures for drilling in deep water need to be reviewed in light of what we now know about the conditions as opposed to treating it like a higher pressure shallow water well.

    The drilling of the well was finished, it was in the process of being cemented so the Deepwater Horizon could leave so the well could be produced. Who is to blame is a complex issue and more information is needed to make a definitive conclusion. We need to know why the BOP failed, we need to know why the first cement plug failed (Was it properly squeezed? Was it thick enough?), we need to know if any other problems had occurred on this particular well.

  4. #4 Bob
    May 12, 2010

    I’m not looking for someone to blame as much as an understanding of how the oil industry & regulators think about risk (probability & consequences) and how that informs design choices and regulation. A lot of the approach to safety can be seen in the public reports, at least in the nuclear industry.

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    May 13, 2010

    Bob, I’ve a few resources but not time to collate them sensibly at this very moment. Will put that together for you. If you would like, email me at luna_northcat “at” yahoo.co.uk, since there is a chance that my response would get hung in moderation for link spam anyway.

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