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May 30, 2010

Gulf of Mexico in Dire Straits

It has been 6 weeks since the Gulf oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded killing 11 people. Had this horrible leak not happened perhaps we would hear a little more about them? Millions of gallons of oil have belched out of the crack in a pipe 5000 feet on the Gulf floor. Here is a link to a depressing live feed of the spill if you would like to see what oil looks like as it exits the earth: Oil Spill Live Feed


As events unfold surrounding the cause of the leak, and as and failure after failure of BP to stop the leak hits the media outlets, the outrage grows at a logarithmic scale. It didn't take long for Halliburton to enter the conversation as we learn that they had just completed a well cementing operation just 20 hours before the explosion occurred that is now causing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil to enter the Gulf. Coincidence?

Here is a great write up on why we can justifiably point our fingers at Halliburton. Dick Cheney was VP of the company only 10 years ago and if we apply a little forward thinking using past history of this company we can easily make a case against both Cheney and Halliburton as possible culprits. Here is the link:  Is Halliburton to Blame for Gulf Disaster?

There are many more questions than answers as the Chief Operating Officer for BP says things like,
 "Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet."
First question: Why not? The submarine force has a contingency plan for the contingency plan as the boats punch holes in the ocean hundreds of feet below the surface. We train for every possible disaster. Why don't the oil companies do the same thing, especially since they got the go-ahead to "Drill, baby drill!" from the Obama administration.
The administration endorsed opening more of the eastern Gulf of Mexico for drilling — including areas at least 125 miles off the Florida coast that the Interior Department estimates could boost total Gulf production by 100 million barrels of oil in 2030.
The Obama administration has been going back and forth on the who, what, where and why's of offshore drilling to appease both the environmentalists, who seem to have a huge case for their point of view at the present, and the need for Americans to have our fossil fuels.

Another question rests with the oil companies themselves, who have been running amock for many many decades, unchecked by the government in the actual procedures and practices of oil drilling, refinement and containment. This is an area the private sector has been given full reign with only a modest amount of control from the lawmakers in the forms of regulations, fines and taxes on the crude. Everyone is pissed and looking at Obama for a solution to his Katrina. I like the advice, born out of frustration and the realization that this spill is a punch in the eye to his political health, that the President gave to BP, "Plug the damn hole". Good call.

I think the comparison of this spill to Katrina is dumb but legitimate. Katrina was a natural disaster that we had plenty of time to prepare for. Perhaps the magnitude of the hurricane was a surprise but the fact that it was heading towards New Orleans was not. There was no preparation to speak of and Bush's latent response time to the disaster has been beaten to death. The oil spill was a surprise, although (again) looking at Halliburton's past history of plugging oil pipes, someone should have had a contingency plan ready. Many people say Obama took too long to get containment measures in place and has is being heavily criticized for his response time and the complaints are legit.
Frustrated Gulf Coast residents say they understand that only BP can plug the leak. But they want to know why the federal government didn't act faster to stop the oil from reaching shore, why BP hasn't been forced to skim more oil from the surface and why their request hasn't been approved to build new barrier islands to help keep the oil at bay.
Keeping in line with this administration's policy on media covered screw ups, the Administration is going into carpal tunnel with all the finger pointing including citing a 1990 law that states oil companies must clean up their messes. Ok, Obama, BP has said they will clean up the mess and that they, along with a few other people, are partly to blame for the accident. David Scalise, R-La, said it best:
Scalise says Obama's increased engagement is overdue. "We don't need a finger-pointer-in-chief," he says. "We need a quarterback on the field."
Unfortunately, there really isn't anything the government can do at this point. It doesn't have the know-how to stop oil leaks, just fine the oil companies when they happen. Obama has stated several times over the last few weeks that stricter and tighter controls over drilling will be implemented. Doesn't really help now, but good effort. It also appears that much more can be done to contain the spill and that the administration is dragging their feet.

A quick internet search for images of the disaster reveals a bleak outlook for the Gulf coast residents, wildlife, ocean life, estuaries and marshlands. It will take decades of dedicated clean up efforts to bring things back to "normal".  The containment efforts look haphazard at best- booms drifting with no apparent purpose, chemicals sprayed on top of the oil to make it sink, and the latest failure of BP to plug the hole with rubber balls and mud. Maybe I should send my 4 year old daughter to help with ideas on how to plug the leak. What's next, plugging the leak with annoying talking Elmo dolls?

Erroneously reported as a success by the Coast Guard, BP has now reported that the topkill procedure, forcing a little over a million tons of mud into the hole, has failed. The next plan is to actually cut the oddly shaped pipe and then apply a patch. If this doesn't work I think the only option, unfortunately, is to let the reservoir run dry to the tune of over 1 billion gallons of oil floating in the Gulf. Thought the economy was bad now? Wait and see what happens to the Gulf states who rely on the waters as a source of income- tourism, fishing, etc. Oh, and today is the eve of hurricane season. A tropical storm or hurricane making its way into the Gulf will only exponentially complicate things.

Environmentalists and alternative energy proponents are in a hizzy as each day and each new million gallon daily spill justify the position that oil is bad, mmkay? I tend to agree, but then again I am in the solar business. Another angle to this story that hasn't been touched on is the potential damage to other countries' shoreline and economy caused by the spill. The Gulf stream bends around Florida and makes it way to the shores of Great Britain, which is the cause of all the fog. Any chance of the oil making it that far? Nothing to do but wait for another week or so to find out if the cut-and-repatch method will work.

Still think off shore drilling is cool?

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