Afternoon Inquisition

AI: A Sticky Situation

There’s speculation that the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the well drilled by British Petroleum’s ill-fated rig, Deepwater Horizon, could be stopped as early as this month.

Of course there has been a rash of miscalculations, over/under-estimations , and, some would say, outright lies about several different aspects of this spill flying about since Deepwater Horizon exploded over two months ago. The initial estimate was that it would be the end of August or even September before relief wells could be drilled, allowing cleanup to take priority as the sole emergency operation. So the accuracy of this assessment remains to be seen.

But what are your thoughts on this event overall?

Has BP handled it as well as it could have? Have BP officials shown the disdain and arrogance that some seem to think they have? Are we to blame in any way due to a dependence on oil? What does this tell us about ourselves? What about this event’s impact on the future? Will it change our outlook on energy production? What about environmental concerns?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

Related Articles

22 Comments

  1. I think we as individuals like to blame everyone but ourselves. There is no denying that BP wouldn’t be drilling there if we didn’t have an insatiable need for the stuff.
    There is no denying that even those of us who would like to find renewable, clean energy do many, many things to help support the oil industry. Some of it is done because there is very little infrastructure to live without it and some of it is just because of thoughtless convenience.
    I am very guilty of it myself and I have a very hard time reading or watching anything about the problem without feeling like I am deeply to blame. Because face it, it takes a lot of people to make a change, but a lot of people is made up of me and you and the next person doing something more than talking about it, putting out the recycling and signing a petition when its put in front of us.
    I don’t know if I will have a permanent radical change in my lifestyle, probably not. But I don’t kid myself on why the gulf looks like it does.

  2. I honestly don’t know enough about the reality of what happened. I know the media’s words and the public outcry, but those things are only one small part of a much larger story. Still, I find the whole thing sad.

    But it’s not just energy that we are drilling for. Granted, that’s a biggie, but oil and it’s byproducts are used throughout the manufacturing process for lubricants and other products. People keep thinking that if they drive less or get solar power they’re free of the oil demon. The reality, at least as I understand it, is that we’re going to be drilling for oil for a very long time.

    I want to see us use re-usable energy sources to lessen the demand for oil, but so often people don’t think about how much petroleum products are used in other aspects of their lives. We have to come to grips with that.

  3. I think that BP did not do as much as they should have. No, I don’t think they shouldn’t have been drilling there in the first place. Let’s face it, I happen to like what oil gives me in terms of energy and about 90% of the items I have, including many of the plastics that are in use.

    That said, they screwed up before the oil spill. They were lax on safety. OSHA violations numbered 760 while Exxon/Mobil had one. They’ve paid over $700 billion in fines to the EPA and DOJ for spills, leaks, and other problems. In short, what BP SHOULD have done is prevent the problem in the first place by cleaning up its act and complying with safety and other regulations. In short, I’m not buying another drop of ARCO or BP gas.

  4. Has BP handled it as well as it could have?

    No where close. BP’s approach has been to deny the size of the spill and make halfhearted attempts at best at control.

    Have BP officials shown the disdain and arrogance that some seem to think they have?

    Indeed. Instead of coming clean with a mea culpa and trying everything to remedy and ameliorate the spill BP finds it more efficient to spend money on trying to spin the media.

    Are we to blame in any way due to a dependence on oil? What does this tell us about ourselves?

    We are to blame in every way. Oil is a nasty, dirty industry. It has always been so. There are ways to make it slightly less risky and somewhat cleaner, but as long as our mindless waste of energy continues unabated massive environmental damage on a global scale is inevitable.

    What about this event’s impact on the future? Will it change our outlook on energy production? What about environmental concerns?

    This is the silver lining as I see it. Much like the A-bomb, the Cuyahoga River fire, and 9/11 this event seems like it will leave a lasting impression on the American consciousness. I suspect and hope that laws concerning environmental regulations and switching to sustainable energy will have a much better chance at passage merely by intoning “BP” for years to come.

  5. I would like to know if there were a possibility to have stopped the leak if BP hadn’t worked to keep the well usable.

    I mean, would it have been possible to have just plugged the hole so it would never be usable as a well again?

    Everything they did seemed to be to cap it so they could attach a pipeline to it.

    Does anyone know?

  6. @modhran: Everything they did seemed to be to cap it so they could attach a pipeline to it.

    Does anyone know?

    I have done a lot of reading on this, and I don’t believe that BP has missed any obvious solutions at the well head. They tried a plug with “mud” and it didn’t work. Other solutions such as trying to pinch off the pipe either mechanically or with explosives runs the risk of moving the blowout lower with the potential for a larger spill that is even harder to control.

  7. Gonna stick my neck out and suggest that BP hasn’t been called “British Petroleum” for years.

    PS I’m English. Which means I am also British.

    PPS I have no evidence because I am too drunk, and far too in need of lavatorial relief, to search the web for it.

  8. A lot of things contributed to this disaster.

    Including but not limited to;
    1. Human nature (path of least resistance, out of sight out of mind, someone else’s problem, etc.),
    2. Distrust of authority figures (climate change deniers, free marketers, lax fuel efficiency standards, etc.),
    3. American rugged individualism (no one’s gonna tell me what to drive, we can’t clean up our act unless China/India/Botswana does too, get off my lawn, etc.),
    4. A movie at the wrong time (China Syndrome right before 3 Mile Island, An Inconvenient Truth 7 years too late to help Al Gore win, The Day After Tomorrow any time, etc.),
    5. Media consolidation (Viacom, Disney, GE/Comcast, Time Warner, NewsCorp., etc.),
    6. A broken political system (brought to you by Exxon Mobil/Shell/British Petroleum, regulations by the regulated, anger at the wrong foe, etc.)

    I could go on (and have already) but you get the picture.

    This is simply NOT a simple story, we all have a hand in it, and we all have to find the solution. We are so screwed.

  9. The arrogance that BP has shown in this instance is staggering. Whining that they “want their lives back”, entering yacht races, crying about everyone blaming them, boo-frickin’-hoo.

    If they just went to work on fixing the problem and stopped trying to smooth over the PR they may have been seen as somewhat human. Stupid, but human.

  10. Has BP handled it as well as it could have?

    I think they’ve done exactly what they could have done after the fact. However, that we’ve gone forward on deep water drilling KNOWING FULL WELL that this drill a second well which takes months is the only response currently developed if the preventive measures fail (which are arguably pretty snazzy, but we’ve seen they fail now), is unbelievably irresponsible. We need to be able to count on our industry to fix things in a timely fashion when they go pear shaped.

    Have BP officials shown the disdain and arrogance that some seem to think they have?

    Yes, I think so. Even if it’s just a few officials, image matters. It especially matters when you got caught with your junk in the apple pie AND you failed to develop a more speedy rescue plan.

    Are we to blame in any way due to a dependence on oil? What does this tell us about ourselves?

    As to the concept that this is our fault, I quite agree with what Juan Cole said on the matter.
    Absolutely, yes, we must shift in our energy sources. But energy isn’t the only thing we use oil for. We need to put serious money into researching a whole post-plastic world, but that’s going to take longer than even the energy issue. In the mean time, there’s plenty of blame to go around. But my daily commute doesn’t demand that a shitty administration fail to enforce environmental regulations and that an industry fails to do everything possible to reduce impact. It is clear that is not what their behavior has shown.

    What about this event’s impact on the future? Will it change our outlook on energy production? What about environmental concerns?

    I sure hope so.

  11. Energy isn’t the only thing we use oil for – but the other uses seem small. If you look at:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/ep/ep_frame.html#6

    you can see that mostly we use oil for transportation, and most of that is gasoline. According to the DOE numbers 46% of the 20 million barrels the U.S. uses every day is consumed as gasoline.

    Which isn’t to say that plastics are good, or to quibble with whatbluedot. I agree with most of your points. But it is useful to know some approximate numbers regarding oil consumption and production when you try to think about what our energy policy should be.

    Knowing these numbers – world consumption is about 80 million barrels of oil per day, the U.S. uses about 25% of that, U.S. production is a little less that 7 million bbls/day, GOM production is about 1.7 million bbls/day – you can see that drilling a well like Macondo 252, which might produce about 75 thousand bbls/day, is a huge risk for a small benefit.

  12. “Has BP handled it as well as it could have?”
    Depends how you look at it. From the point of view of the environmentally responsible, no they haven’t, not even close. From the point of view of a BP shareholder – maybe they have done a good job of protecting their share value.

    “Have BP officials shown the disdain and arrogance that some seem to think they have?”

    Yes, absolutely. Whining about a lack of holidays FFS.

    “Are we to blame in any way due to a dependence on oil?”

    No. No one oil well is going to make a difference at your gas pump. No one well is important enough to justify reckless disregard for safety or the environment. There is as yet no shortage of drilling opportunities – if a particular one is too expensive to bring in profitably while taking proper cognisance of risks to persons or the environment, leave it be until it is profitable.
    The guilt is shared by BP and government – the bureaucracy for neglecting proper oversight, and the legislative branch for ignoring suitable safety procedures in enacting regulations.

  13. you can see that mostly we use oil for transportation, and most of that is gasoline. According to the DOE numbers 46% of the 20 million barrels the U.S. uses every day is consumed as gasoline.

    Which isn’t to say that plastics are good, or to quibble with whatbluedot. I agree with most of your points. But it is useful to know some approximate numbers regarding oil consumption and production when you try to think about what our energy policy should be.

    Certainly, and changing our energy policy is very important. But if we do, oil isn’t going to cease to be an industry, and they’re going to find new ways to sell oil to us. We need to have an energy policy (and practice) shift, but we also need to thoroughly address how we use oil (and other fossil fuels) specifically so that oil doesn’t just sneak into some new part of our lives. Can anyone else see them replacing construction-grade concrete with some kind of plastic?

  14. I believe that throughout their history, BP has been consistently reckless and put profits ahead of the environment and workers’ safety. I hope that BP fails or at least is seriously weakened as a consequence of this disaster so that they won’t have the power or desire to cause such great damage anymore.

  15. I think the main stream media is to blame for most of the characterization of BP officials a being disdainful and arrogant. These are company executives not PR flacks or politicians used to setting up an impenetrable facade when dealing with the media. No matter what they do media is going to savage them.

    As far as dealing with the disaster, it is pretty evident that the entire industry is woefully prepared to handle this sort of incident. It is a serious problem that the research and development on how to handle something like this (inevitable) blowout is not well understood. This is a failure on the part of both industry and government.

    BP in particular appears to have a culture of operating close to the edge and getting severely burnt by it. That the regulatory agencies permitted this to continue is unacceptable.

    As far as the comment about BP working to keep the well usable, nobody with any oil industry experience believes that in any way. The fact of the blowout destroys the potential for use of the well in production completely. In the future BP may drill a new well into the same reservoir, but the existing well is completely ruined.

    For those really interested in this and other related issues there is a really good energy related blog frequented and run by a scientists and engineers in the field.

    http://www.theoildrum.com/

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close