Murphy’s Law and the Stupidity of Obama’s Drill-Drill-Drill Offshore Oil Policy

The murder of the oceans: chronicle of a death foretold.

Editors’ Note—Problems like these, which in reality have simple solutions, become as tough as advanced cancers when humanity attempts to control them using the rules of the capitalist system, which, incidentally, creates them in the first place. Leaving aside the scandalous question of why we still have cars that yield only 35 mpg average instead of hundreds of gallons, or why the world has not moved to a new energy paradigm away from oil, there should be an immediate embargo on all oil operations in oceans and lakes around the world. Period. In this, the US should be leading the charge instead of being the single most conspicuous violator of ecological prudence.  Incidentally, following its by-now typical demagogic course, the Obama administration has declared that “no new drilling will be allowed offshore until a complete study is done on the BP oil spill.”  At this stage in the evolution of the administration’s rhetoric, we should instantly recognize what this portends:  more talk tough and do nothing.  Like Aldous Huxley’s soma,  the US political class long ago discovered the power of feeding p.r. to the masses, based on the sorry fact that a misinformed, atomized, and heavily indoctrinated public constantly looking out for their personal affairs is not likely to remember anything of importance beyond a fleeting moment of clarity.  Thus when a man-made crisis as the one we witness now on the Gulf Coast strikes, a study is solemnly commissioned to avoid doing what is obvious and immediate, and then another study after that if necessary.  In that cynical manner, decades can slip by without effective action.  Then, as the fickle media focus moves on, and the public forgets, the malefactors get back to business as usual.  And this, folks, is what passes for the best of all possible democracies, one we’re proud enough to export at gunpoint, if necessary.—P. Greanville

Dateline: April 28, 2010 [print_link]

By Dave Lindorff  (with companion bonus piece by Marcus Baram, see below)  // All annotated text by the editor in green.

British Petroleum had a fail-safe system for it’s Deepwater Horizon floating deep-water drilling rig.

You know, the one that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a tangled spaghetti pile of 22-inch steel pipe one mile long all balled up on the sea floor a mile below the surface, and that is leaking oil at 42,000 gallons per day…so far.

The thing is, the fail-safe system, about the size of a McMansion sitting at the wellhead on the ocean floor, um, failed. It didn’t collapse and shut off the flow of oil as intended, and it could take months now to shut the well down–during which time the leak rate is likely to increase to up to 300,000 gallons per day, or over two million gallons a week.

President Obama claimed last month that off-shore drilling technology had become so advanced that oil spills and blowouts were a thing of the past. Of course, as he said this, Australia and Indonesia were still assessing the damage from a similar offshore oil platform, the Montana, in the Timor Sea, which blew out and poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean off Western Australia for over three months before it could be sealed off.

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Given that this is true, particular of complex technological enterprises, the question that needs to be asked is not, what is the probability of a catastrophic failure of an offshore well, but what is the potential damage in the event of even one such catastrophe for the local environment?

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the potential damage if this well really blows is staggering. Just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it poses a near fatal risk to the region’s wetlands and bayous, with their shrimp and oyster fisheries, not to mention the breeding grounds they provide for endangered birds, fish and other animals.

But the real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon is what it means for expanded drilling in the Arctic waters north of Alaska.

Oil companies, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and others, like Goldman traders looking at a tranch of subprime mortgages, are casting covetous eyes on the Arctic Ocean and the oil and gas that studies suggest lie under the virgin sea floor. Their plan is to drill for these hydrocarbons once the summer sea ice vanishes as a result of rising global temperatures (more about this in a future article).

Obama, as part of his opening of more coastal areas to drilling, is including areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which are already ice free during summer.

Trust him at your own risk.

But let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose there were a blowout like the one in the Gulf of Mexico at a rig drilling in the Arctic? Suppose it happened towards the end of the short summer, when the ice was about to return to cover the ocean surface? If it was a blowout that couldn’t be plugged, like the Montana blowout in the Timor Sea, or if the fail-safe system at the wellhead failed, as with the Deepwater Horizon, and if the only solution was, as with the Montana well, to drill new wells to ease the pressure on the blown well, how would this be done, once the ice moved in?

Answer? It couldn’t be done. Murphy’s Law again. And so millions of gallons of crude oil would rise up out of the burst wellhead to spread out underneath the ice, whence it would eventually move on to destroy hundreds of miles of fragile coastline, probably killing untold numbers of species that live in the affected waters. The damage from such a completely predictable disaster wouldn’t just be staggering, like the Montana or the Deepwater Horizon blowouts, but incomprehensible!

So why are we even talking about this?

The argument, made ad nauseum by Republicans and Democrats alike, is that the US needs more energy, and that we don’t want to be dependent for our oil on “countries that hate us.”

And yet, there is a much simpler answer than hanging a hydrocarbon Sword of Damocles over our nation’s critical coastal areas. Just copy Europe and impose a 100% tax on gas and oil, to make people turn away from 15 or 20 or 25-mile-per-gallon vehicles and start driving fuel-efficient cars, car-pooling or forgoing cars altogether.

Even better, tax the crap out of cars that don’t get at least 35 or even 40 mpg.

Oh, I know. People will say, “but poor people in rural areas or in the suburbs can’t pay those rates for gas to get to work, and they have to buy used cars that don’t get such high mileage rates.”

I understand the problem, but it is solvable, by establishing refundable tax credits for low-income people who can document long commuting distances, for example.

The main point is that the country doesn’t need to drill in risky settings. It needs only to cut oil consumption.

What’s clear is that drilling in the open ocean is simply disaster after disaster waiting to happen.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at



By Marcus Baram / | HuffPost Reporting

Gulf Oil Spill Exceeds BP’s ‘Worst-Case Scenario,’ Drilling Supporters On Defensive

First Posted: 04-29-10 11:00 AM   |   Updated: 04-29-10 05:00 PM

Too little, too late.The massive gush of oil spilling from the site of the rig that exploded last week exceeds the worst-case scenario predicted by oil giant BP when it filed its exploration plan with the government. The scale of the disaster is also having political repercussions, putting lawmakers who support offshore drilling on the defensive.

Yesterday, the estimated size of the spill quintupled to over 210,000 gallons a day. In BP’s exploration plan, which allowed it to avoid filing a more detailed site-specific plan, the company outlined a worst-case scenario of 162,000 gallons a day.

In addition, the federal agency with oversight of offshore drilling, the Interior Department’s Minerals and Management Service did not require BP to file a “scenario for potential blowout,” referring to the sudden release of oil from a well.

According to the exploration plan obtained by Huffington Post, an MMS official certified that BP “has the capacity to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge, or a substantial threat of such a discharge.”

But after the explosion, the scale of the accident required BP to get assistance from the Coast Guard, other federal agencies and other oil companies such as Shell, which is sending half a dozen vessels to help with the clean-up effort.

Spokespersons for BP and MMS did not return calls for comment.

Since the explosion, during which 11 workers were thrown overboard and are presumed dead, federal officials and members of Congress have launched several investigations into the incident and the role of BP and drilling contractor TransOcean.

[In a transparently hypocritical and self-serving gesture, Conservadem ] Sen. Mary Landrieu, a longtime supporter of offshore oil drilling, has called for a full investigation into the incident.

But in recent days, she has preached caution. Landrieu says that the incident should “not be used inappropriately” to halt President Obama’s recent push for expansion of offshore drilling.

“Both advocates and critics of offshore drilling have recognized the significance of this tragedy… we cannot stop energy production in our country because of this incident,” Ms. Landrieu said.

In two previous congressional hearings, Landrieu minimized the chance of such a massive accident occurring on an offshore oil rig and also minimized the impact of any oil spill, saying it would hardly fill one-third of the reflecting pool outside of the Capitol.

At a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last November to discuss the environmental impact of offshore oil drilling, Landrieu dismissed concerns about the chances of a blowout — which occurred off the coast of Australia last August — happening in the Gulf of Mexico:

You said it was the largest spill in Australia’s history. It’s true. It leaked 823,000 gallons of oil. As Mr. Cruickshank testified, it wouldn’t even be allowed in this country because it doesn’t stand up to our strict environmental rules.

But let’s say we had messed up and allowed it to produce oil off of our shores, it would be one-third of the amount necessary to fill the Reflecting Pool outside of this Capitol. It’s the largest spill in the history of Australia. It’s a pretty long history. The rig that blew didn’t meet our standards but if we had it slip through and we had allowed it to drill, the oil that spilled would fill up a third of the Reflecting Pool.

At a hearing last month held by the same committee to discuss drilling, Landrieu repeated her line about the reflecting pool, adding:

Mary Landrieu: Highly toxic politician.
Mary Landrieu: toxic to both citizens and nature.

I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security. So while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal. {This line, invoking two of the sacred cows in American political discourse, “jobs” and “security”, is also peddled by the exasperatingly moronic fascistoid bimbo Sarah Palin, which shows how close “conservative Democrats” and ultra-rightwingers in the GOP are. Landrieu, incidentally, comes from an old and corrupt Louisiana political dynasty.  Her performance during Katrina was characteristically pitiful. But there she is, still polluting the corridors of power, and receiving polite attention from the media. ]

HuffPost asked Landrieu whether she still stands by her comments and whether she supports new safety regulations proposed by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, which are opposed by the oil industry, as first reported by HuffPost on Monday.

In response, the senator’s office said she does support MMS’s proposed safety rules and issued this statement:

Senator Landrieu has been very supportive of Secretary Salazar and believes that the MMS and the Coast Guard have generally been good stewards of human safety with respect to the oil and gas industry. The Senator has said repeatedly that what happened in the Gulf last week is a tragedy and should be fully investigated to find out what went wrong and how it can be prevented in the future.

But she also firmly believes that this accident should not be used as an excuse to abandon plans to make America more energy secure.

Consider the alternative: to stop all domestic offshore drilling. That would only export America’s oil and gas production activities — and the attendant jobs that go with it — overseas to countries that have neither the will, nor the resources, to address the environmental impacts.

Even with the development of alternative energy sources, the United States will still need oil into the foreseeable future. With no offshore domestic production, that oil would be tankered from overseas into the United States. The one thing we do know is that such a policy would do nothing to protect our shores. In fact, the National Academies of Science has found that while drilling and extraction account for less than 1 percent of all the oil that enters the marine environment, tankering accounts for four times that much.

[Running to cover her ass] Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a longtime supporter of drilling offshore in her state, will hold a hearing next week on federal Outer Continental Shelf development plans:

“As we look to expand exploration off our nation’s coasts, it’s critical that we take every possible precaution to guard against similar accidents,” Murkowski said. “It’s imperative that we find out everything we can about what went wrong on the Horizon.”

[Note that this kind of sly pronouncement makes the acceptance of drilling offshore a done deal, allowing for no further discussion.  Now it’s a question of “how” not “if”.  It’s obvious Murkowski is well versed in the wiles required for successful misleadership.]



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