Saturday, August 14, 2010

Footnote to the preceding

BP giveth and BP taketh away.
National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen said Friday that the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is not yet dead, and that BP will proceed with a relief well to permanently kill it.

"Everyone agrees we need to move forward with the relief well, but the question is how to do that," Allen told reporters.
While the "static kill" appears to have successfully placed a layer of cement and mud to seal the well from the top,
engineers don't know the thickness or strength of the layer of cement currently plugging the annulus,
the area between the inner pipe and the outer casing of the well. So while they kinda think they got it under control, they don't know for certain. So onto the relief well.

But that raises a new problem: concern that if material is pumped in too fast via the relief well, or "bottom kill," it could increase pressure in the pipe enough to blow out the cement now plugging the annulus, dumping more oil into the Gulf before the well is finally plugged for good. So yeah, relief well but "how to do that" is, like the man said, still a question.

Let's recall that this began on April 20. (Of course it actually began considerably earlier in the corporate decisions that lead to the disaster - but I'm talking "began" in the "immediate disaster" sense.) That's pushing four months ago and maybe - maybe - the well is plugged. What does that say about our knowledge, our technology, our ability to deal with similar disasters? What does it say about the risks we have run, the risks we are running, the risks we will continue to run? What is says to me is that - even including the effects of Deepwater Horizon - we've been damn lucky. But luck can't run forever.

Especially not if we keep doing crap like this:
In a deal that has sweeping, long-term implications for millions of people living and working along the US Gulf Coast, the Obama administration has agreed to base the payments by BP to the oil disaster fund on the oil giant’s profits from its drilling operations in the Gulf.
That "disaster fund" is the $20 billion BP agreed to put up to pay for claims against the damage it caused.
After depositing the first $3 billion into the fund, BP must provide collateral to guarantee the remaining $17 billion it has pledged to deposit over the next three and a half years. ...

BP will give as security “interests in production payments pertaining to the [company’s] U.S. oil and natural gas production,” the bulk of which is located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Get that? The collateral for the fund is BP's profits from continuing to pump in the Gulf. Even the "Wall Street Journal"
noted Monday that an agreement tying the escrow fund to production revenues “would give both sides an incentive to continue production in the Gulf, scene of the U.S.’s worst-ever offshore oil spill.” ...

Tying the disaster fund directly to Gulf oil revenue has obvious political advantages for the company, as the Journal pointed out, “because it could make the administration and BP partners of sorts in developing the Gulf.” It would forestall measures such as the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month effectively banning BP from new offshore drilling in the Gulf, because such a move would then threaten the stream of revenue for the disaster fund.
That is, this agreement actually, ultimately, serves to protect BP's interests in the Gulf of Mexico, currently worth over $11 billion a year to the company. I'd call this a lemonade from lemons trick on BP's part except that the proposal for the collateral didn't come from BP, which argued it was unnecessary. It came from the Obama administration.

"And over there at the juicer, that's Ken Salazar! Let's give him a big hand. Keep squeezing those lemons, Ken!"

Given the behavior of both BP and the O-crowd in this, I am reminded again of the words of C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters: "The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

Footnote to the Footnote: According to the "Wall Street Journal" as quoted by PBS's "Newshour,"
Michael Bromwich, the Interior Department's new offshore-drilling chief said that the agency had relied too much on the oil and gas industry it was supposed to police....
Gee, ya think?

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