Saturday, June 19, 2010

If the oil gusher is unstoppable....

Here are three links that are suggesting this might very well be an uncontrollable spew, an extremely alarming development, if true with a difficult to manage future, to say the least. I heard someone from an ocean-loving non-profit on The Dylan Ratigan Show say that if it's now just a hole with no casing spewing from the sea floor, the only solution would be a low-level nuclear detonation to turn the cracked areas of the sea floor to glass.

Here are the relevant links -

Is the BP Gusher Unstoppable? Mother Jones_

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Against and For Temporay Receivership of BP by The Federal Government

Is It Political Lunacy for the President to Take Charge in the Gulf Or Political Lunacy for Him Not To? A Colloquy

Friday, June 4, 2010

I just came across this post from Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard whom I’ve never known to mince words.

I like Bob Reich and consider him a friend, but he is nuts. [She’s referring to my suggestion that the President put BP into temporary receivership.] There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to “take charge” of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months.

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.
When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.
Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

My response:

I like Theda Skocpol and consider her a friend, but she’s got this one backwards. It’s not “political lunacy” for the president to take charge of this mess. It’s political lunacy for him not to.

Would Theda propose that if a military contractor accidentally fired off a missile, or the owner of a nuclear reactor accidentally allowed it to melt down, or a food processor accidentally sent off deadly bacteria into America’s food chain, that the President should not take control because he couldn’t “fix” these disasters right away? Or that he shouldn’t get involved because the political right might subsequently use his efforts to reinforce its message that the government doesn’t work?

What’s happening in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in American history. It defies common sense for the President to delegate most of its solution to the same corporation whose negligence in all likelihood created it.

The public deeply distrusts BP, with good reason. Its record to date has been cutting corners to make profits. Yes, BP’s expertise may be necessary now. But how can we believe BP is using all the resources at its disposal to stop the leak? (A petroleum engineer told me earlier this week that BP has some two dozen tankers in the Gulf that could be siphoning off the oil, and has shut down work on the second relief well in order to cannibalize parts from it for the primary kill effort.)

How can we trust that decisions BP continues to make – such as the use of toxic dispersants – properly weigh risks to the safety and health of Americans?

And as BP continues to pay out dividends to its shareholders, how can we trust it will have enough capital to pay all the costs of cleanup, not to mention the costs to businesses and individauls of the devastation it’s wrought?

For the President to stand apart from all this – to set up a commission to study how it happened and instruct the Justice Department to inquire into the possibility that civil and criminal fines may be appropriate – is both poliltically unwise and against the public’s interest. I fear Americans will come to see it as a dereliction of duty.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Robert Reich has the answers

  • Putting BP Under Temporary Receivership: Some Qs and As

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Q: Is this realistic?

    A: Not only realistic but it may become necessary — both operationally and politically. If the disaster continues to worsen, it’s untenable for a for-profit corporation to be in charge.

    Q: But why should we expect government to do any better job than BP?

    A: BP would still be at the job — and its expertise, equipment, and other assets would continue to be utilized. But the federal government would be in overall control of the operation — weighing public risks and benefits, deciding what resources are necessary, getting accurate information and disseminating it to the public.

    Q: Why should we trust the government?

    A: This isn’t an ideological contest about how little you trust a giant oil company versus the federal government. It’s a matter of accountability. BP’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders. And it will cut corners — as it has before — if that’s the best way to maximize the value of their shares. But only the government, through the President, is directly accountable to the American public, and responsible for protecting it.

    Q: Under what legal authority could the President take control of BP’s North American operations?

    A: Obama has implicit authority through laws and regulations dealing with offshore drilling, especially the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. By analogy, if a nuclear reactor were melting down, the President would use his regulatory authority over nuclear energy to take temporary control over the plant and the relevant parts of the corporation that ran it. President Truman seized the nation’s steel mills in 1952, arguing that the emergency of the Korean War necessitated it. (The Supreme Court ultimately blocked him but according to Justice Jackson, whose opinion was essentially the majority’s, that was because Truman had no statutory basis for the seizure, not even an implicit one. That isn’t the case here.)

    Q: But BP is a British corporation. How can the U.S. government take control?

    A: The nationality of a corporation’s shareholders has nothing to do with it. If it is operating within the jurisdiction of the United States and poses a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of Americans, a president would take control of its operations and assets in the United States.

    Q: Do you really think Obama would do this? Wouldn’t he prefer to stay away from this mess and keep the responsibility squarely on BP?

    A: He may not have much of a choice. If the disaster worsens and Obama doesn’t take control he risks inheriting the mantle of Katrina.

    Q: What will force his hand?

    A: The White House is already inching toward control. BP’s new admission that it can’t stop the leak until August has shocked a public already deeply distrustful of it. As new evidence emerges of the scale of the disaster, the pressure on the Administration to take full and open control will only grow. Last Saturday Energy Secretary Chu asked BP to cease its so-called “top kill” effort to stop up the gush because he and his team of scientists had concluded it was too risky. Now the White House has to decide whether BP’s continued use of highly toxic dispersants poses more of a threat to the public and the environment than a help. When do these decisions tip over into control? Any time now.

  • Closing the Hole in the Gulf: A Petroleum Engineer Responds

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    A petroleum engineer who’s worked in the oil industry tells me BP is doing the minimum to clean up the oil and everything it can to protect its bottom line. According to the engineer, here’s what BP should be doing right now to mitigate the damage. If the President were to put BP into temporary receivership, he’d have the power to get BP to:

    1. Stop releasing dispersants. So-called dispersants are toxic, and it’s crazy to add more poison to the Gulf. Dispersants do nothing to assist the environment in naturally cleaning the oil; their main use is PR. They reduce the number of ugly pictures of birds covered in pure black crude. Dispersants break the thick layer of crude into smaller globs, but that doesn’t help the Gulf and its wildlife. Most of the crude just mixes with the water to produce a goop that looks like chocolate ice cream but is highly poisonous.

    2. Mobilize every possible tanker to siphon up crude from as close to the leak points as possible. Oil industry leaders as John Hofmeister (president of Shell Oil from 2005 until 2008) have recommended this, but inexplicably neither BP nor the federal government are talking about even trying this idea. BP currently has only one spot where they have inserted a tube into a riser, or pipe, that is leaking oil from the sea floor. The company is gathering the crude oil and siphoning it up to a drill ship for storage.

    They should have at least a dozen collectors. BP has 24 tankers that are being used to make money for BP, not for clean-up duty. (President Obama should also use all necessary federal power — or money, and send BP the bill — to put as many tankers and refineries from other companies on the task.)

    Mile-long pipes could be dangled down into the crude spewing from the wellhead and at each breach in the riser pipe, and the tankers could pump the crude mixed with water back into the tankers. They could then separate the crude and water in the tanker, and pump the water out on the spot. This should continue until each tanker is full of oil. The crude should then be taken to a refinery for processing, as other tankers take their place. Submersibles can be used to monitor the uptake into the dangling pipes, moving them as needed to keep them picking up as much crude as possible.

    Even after some separation time in the tankers, the crude will be contaminated with water beyond the typical water contamination levels acceptable at refineries. This would drive up the price of gas in the short term. The president will need to go on TV and ask all Americans to cut their gasoline and energy usage in half, as an emergency response to the disaster in the Gulf, so that tankers and refineries can enact these far-from-perfect cleanup measures.

    3. Restart work on the second pressure relief well. BP did start work on two relief wells as the government requested, but the second has been shut down to cannabalize parts from it for the primary well kill effort. The President must order BP to spend whatever money it takes to get another blow out preventer on site, to re-start work on the second pressure relief well. A recent blow-out off the coast of Australia required five pressure relief wells to successfully shut it down.