Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To bust or not to bust BP

President Obama is under pressure to "do something" about the BP oil spill. Problem is, objectively there is nothing he can do. The men, equipment, and expertise all belong to industry, not the government. The well will be capped as fast as BP can do it.
Groping around for something to do, Obama is threatening BP with criminal prosecution. Legally speaking this is possible. US law is riddled with loopholes, and aggressive prosecutors with plenty of budget can indict even a ham sandwich, let alone a multinational oil company with an accident prone record. Now, with pictures of oil sticky pelicans all over TV news, no American jury would have any trouble convicting.
According to the Wall St Journal, the only paper to cover the issue, the spill happened because of bad judgment calls by the BP manager aboard the rig, and failure of the blowout preventer. The BP man omitted or cut short two important tests for gas leakage. They cemented the well shut, assumed the cement job was tight. In actual fact, the cement job leaked, allowing natural gas at 3000 pounds/square inch into the 13000 foot long drill pipe. The only thing preventing this high pressure gas from rising up the well was the weight of 13000 feet of heavy drilling mud in the pipe. BP pumped that out and refilled the well with sea water. The natural gas forced its way up to the surface, caught fire and exploded. BP tried to shut the well off with the blowout preventer but that gadget malfunctioned. This is dumb and dumber, possibly rising to the level of negligence, but not criminal in the ordinary sense of the word.
Plus, we are depending upon BP to cap this runaway well. Somehow I don't think the threat of indictment, trial, and punishment is going to make BP work any faster or harder. In fact it will slow them down. BP is lawyering up, and lawyers always slow things down.
Obama would do better to call the BP people and offer them help. Navy submarines, Air Force transports, Army helicopters, could help, and won't hurt, and the support would help the morale of the BP personnel struggling with heavy equipment in 5000 feet of water.
And, to prevent this from happening again, there ought to be a clearly written set of safety regulations covering leak testing, fire fighting equipment, chain of command aboard the drill rig, life boat drills, fire drills, and testing of blow out preventers. I don't think such a book exists right now and it ought to.

No comments: