Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The British Petroleum Spill Senate Hearing

While on the road for a good long while yesterday I had the pleasure of tuning into C-SPAN II radio while passing through the Washington, D.C. area to listen to a hearing regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill / leak. Senator Lieberman chaired the hearing and Senator Collins sat as the ranking minority member of the committee. They brought out DHS Secretary Napolitano to answer questions and then the chairman of BP America, Lamar McKay. Both had answers for some questions but not others.

All-in-all, I thought that it was a rather enlightening session. A couple of points brought up struck me as significant: there are many deep water oil operations in the Gulf but at the outset of the meeting it was thought that they constituted less than 5% of the operations in the Gulf - more like 60% if I remember correctly; the contingency plans focused on clean-up were in effect presuming the spill was on top of the water, not from its source below the water's surface; that there hasn't been a catastrophe of this proportion earlier.

The idea that the U.S. government allowed businesses to secure rights to drill this deep yet have no real requirement to determine the means of containing a disastrous worst-case scenario such as this is baffling. This is not the first time a well has been drilled in 5,000 feet of water either. So by sheer luck and some forethought, most wells have gone in without incident. I then could completely understand the position of BP to paraphrase lightly - we really don't have a case history here to deal with an explosion and rupture so deep, so this is all an experiment. I gather some paper diagrams saying how they would contain the bleeding would have been sufficient to say they had thought about it, but there again that type of preparation wouldn't guarantee that it would work in reality.

It certainly struck me as I listened to this entire session that I was able to take it all in from the luxury of my four-wheeled vehicle that is always in need of some nice crude to be pumped or procured from somewhere else on earth. I am repulsed at the amount of damage that this leak has and will cause in the Gulf of Mexico, but I can't say that I want all off-shore drilling and production stopped.

Rather, I am more agreeable for costs such as this to be added to the price of oil products that we as a whole buy. Plastics, oil, gasoline, all of the hydrocarbon-based things that we buy should have an actual cost that covers the necessary destruction of the environment whether that is air, land, or sea pollution. That cost isn't to punish us but to make us aware that there are many unknown expenses associated with these modern-day conveniences. It seems more fair and makes all of us responsible for the world we leave behind.

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