Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Time of Crisis

The Deepwater Horizon oil well continues to spew crude oil into the Caribbean at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day.  Initial attempts at using undersea robots and capping the well were all unsuccessful.  Clearly, this is a very, very difficult technical problem located 100 miles offshore and about 1 mile below ground.

In a mighty need to appear relevant and action-oriented, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today, grilling the BP America Chairman, the CEO of Transocean, and a senior executive at Halliburton.  NPR has a good wrapup of today's testimony, for more details.

(the above image is taken from the webcast; I assume that material is public domain and nobody will complain about copyright issues.  If I'm wrong, please tell me in the comments.)

Come on, Congress.  Really?

Here's my beef: This is a waste of resources at this time.  Testimony before Congress is not taken lightly by anyone.  I've helped prepare Congressional testimony for two different jobs now (on much lower-profile issues than this), and there is a small team of people spending the better part of a week scrutinizing every word, every phrase, every nuance of testimony.  There is A LOT of time sunk into preparing for these events, and I can only imagine that it's been a similar story for the executives who gave today's testimony.  But these folks have better things to do with their time.  Even though only a few dozen people will probably ever watch the whole hearing (it can be found here; and I haven't watched all 218 minutes of it), a few Senators got to Look Tough and grill the executives for a while on what they knew and when they knew it.  A particularly juicy -- and at this point irrelevant -- exchange starts at 184:45.  Watch thru 187:00.

Now don't get me wrong -- there is plenty of blame to be placed here, either on the manufacturer of the blowout preventer, or the operating company who had shoddy work practices, or the owner of the operation who's ultimately responsible for it all.  But now is not the time to be hauling these folks in front of Congress while 210,000 gallons of oil continue to spew into the ocean every day.

Is diverting these senior executives from their day jobs really the most helpful thing Congress can do right now?  I don't think so.  It would seem to me that lending Army Corps of Engineers, available Navy and Coast Guard vessels, and oil booms and oil dispersants to the problem would be a better use of resources.  And we'll do the finger pointing and blaming AFTER the leak is stopped.

The lawyers need not worry.  Hundreds of lawsuits have already been filed; some enterprising group has even taken out the domain name www.bplawsuit.net and populated it.

My heart goes out to the engineers, scientists, boat operators, and trade craft who continue to diligently (and un-gloriously) work nights and weekends, desperately trying to solve this fiendish problem.  I'm pulling for you guys.

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