BP - Bad News and Good News
Hot off the presses is this letter from the Democratic Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to BP CEO Tony Hayward.
Here are the supporting documents:
Some of the drilling lingo is a little dense in this letter, but if you just keep reading, the big picture will become fairly clear, and I'm sure there will be many explanations of the details out in the next few days if you don't want to Google the terms yourself.
After withholding from the initial torches and pitchforks rush, I'm thinking Mr. Hayward is going to have a lot of trouble explaining the corner-cutting detailed in this letter. Basically the well was behind schedule, and over budget, and nobody wanted to go back to the big bosses for more money when they were already liberally spattered in red ink. The well was projected to cost about $100M, and was probably somewhere between 25% and 50% over budget ... perhaps more. Now the guys out in the field with the dirty boots and coveralls that are older than some corporate VPs know that this happens. Particularly when the project is "cutting edge" and "pushing the envelope," the envelope pushes back, and the budget goes out the window. Your corporate types and high-level field supervisors tend to panic, because even though this happens pretty regularly, when the Big Bosses decide that there needs to be a sacrificial offering, it's the middle managers and supervising engineers who fear the knife. So they panic, and they get stupid.
Towards the end of one of these nightmare projects, estimated at $100M, and costing $150M or more, the project engineers and such-like brass hats start getting chinchy, as if another couple of million is going to bankrupt the company if spent, or save them from the axe if not. It happens everywhere ... construction, software development, renovating a kitchen ... everywhere. Saving a few bucks at the end often turns a badly over-budget project into a hideously over-budget disaster. It's better to pay too much and produce something good, than to pay too much and produce something useless, or even worse, a dangerous liability. Hopefully some of these corner-cutters will soon be wearing handcuffs, but I'm insufficiently expert on the drilling laws to know if there is criminal liability.
So what's the Good News?
My personal fear was that we would never know what went wrong, and thus be unable to take action to drill safely. From the matters in this letter, it appears that the accepted drilling procedures are adequate to the task ... if they are FOLLOWED! This may seem like scant comfort to the people either mesmerized by the coverage of this blow-out or too horrified to even watch, but from a failure analysis standpoint, it's Good News. The best technologies and practices in the world of oil drilling are very good indeed, and it would be terrifying to hear that (nearly) everything had been done right and the well still blew out. That would mean that not only the future wells, but current wells drilled in the same way are subject to catastrophic failure for unknown reasons, and that would be frightening.
So for the future, there need to be penalties and fallout from the Deepwater Horizon Blow-out that make it a catch-phrase the next time someone tries to save a few bucks instead of doing it right, and more and better regulation and enforcement of the use of proper technology and procedures.
And yes ... conserve energy and persue Green alternatives, but petroleum drilling is not going to end in our lifetimes, or our childrens' lifetimes. For as long as we must do it, we need to focus on doing it better. One of the first steps is that there needs to be some serious individual responsibility and penalties for this spill, and/or a major reassessment of the laws if the current statutes do not allow such prosecution. The way to influence corporate behavior is to influence the behavior of individuals within the corporation, and there is very little that encourages compliance like the sight of a recent golf buddy wearing handcuffs and prison orange.
Let us not forget the 11 people who died in this incident. They and their families deserve some justice. Personal justice visited upon persons who made the decisions.