Why Isn’t The Government Getting More Involved In Oil Spill?

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Energy, Environment, Money, Oil

It seems to be a question that’s popping up a lot lately, and the simple answer is: they don’t know how to stop it.

Of course they have the authority. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 gives Obama all the authority he needs to take over the spill if need be. But the government just isn’t prepared to respond. And so we have to rely on private companies like BP to clean up their own mess.

Basically, this isn’t a situation like Katrina where we could easily evacuated people or made sure they had clean water to drink and food to eat. Deep water oil spills are special beasts and, unfortunately, only the people who cause them can apparently fix them.

Here’s more from CNN:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who previously threatened a government takeover of the mission, made clear Monday that BP must be involved in trying to stop the leaking oil.

“There are areas where BP and the private sector are the ones who must continue to lead the efforts with government oversight, such as a deployment of private sector technology 5,000 feet below the ocean surface to kill the well,” Salazar said Monday. “BP and the private sector, with the help of federal scientists, are the ones who must get that problem solved and we have the oversight capacity in the administration to make sure that they are doing that.”

In addition, the administration’s point man on the spill response, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, said Monday that BP’s strategies were endorsed by other top oil company executives and he would advise against any shift from BP’s continued involvement.

“They have the means of production,” Allen said at a White House news conference. “They have the logistics in place. They have the ROVs [remotely operated vehicles] that are down there. We are jointly operating in their command post out of Houston [Texas]. Everybody that has a stake in the fight is there. And I am satisfied with the coordination that’s going on.”

By the way, even Republicans admit that the government is essentially powerless in this fight…

“They can fire BP and take it over,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “But the truth is, the federal government probably doesn’t have the capacity to do that.”

And why don’t we “have the capacity to do that?” Oh…could it be that we’ve trusted private enterprises too much with our safety?

Wonder where those ideas came from…

Do know that after these wells are finally capped and the oil has stopped leaking…we should ALL demand that the government now know how to do this themselves. Because the fact that we don’t have the equipment or know how to do this right now is crazy, especially given how much of a threat these leaks pose.

More as it develops…


This entry was posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010 and is filed under Energy, Environment, Money, Oil. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

49 Responses to “Why Isn’t The Government Getting More Involved In Oil Spill?”

  1. WHQ Says:

    And why don’t we “have the capacity to do that?” Oh…could it be that we’ve trusted private enterprises too much with our safety?

    I can agree that we have trusted private enterprises too much with our safety while, at the same time, thinking that the excess trust has nothing to do with the federal government’s lacking the capacity to take over shutting down the well. What is more related to the excess of trust is the lack of more stringent requirements for oil companies to implement (sufficiently) reduntant safety systems on these wells.

    The idea that the federal government should have the capacity to address such things is unrealistic. Now, it is entirely possible for the federal government to have devoted the attention and resources needed to address this particular potential problem, but the problem at hand is one of who-knows-how-many potential problems that might arise at any given time as the result of private commercial or industrial efforts. The federal government cannot be capable of addressing each and every one, so it’s not rational to think that it should be able to address this particular problem simply because it’s the one that arose and because it is dire in nature. It is ex post facto justification for the allocation of limited resources that ignores innumerable other possibilities for entirely reasonable resource allocations.

    The people who should have allocated their resources to adequately address a problem like the current one in the Gulf are the same people who stood to profit greatly from the well’s production. The federal government’s role was simply to be sure BP did just that, rather than the federal government doing it.

  2. Mark Gardiner Says:

    Leaving aside the PR fiasco, right now BP’s only real interest in getting this thing shut in is that they can’t meaningfully recover and sell the oil currently spilling out. The sooner it’s shut in, the sooner they can get to work on extracting and selling the oil left under the seabed.

    One imagines a situation in which only you could put out a fire at your own house (or at least, only the developer of your suburb could douse it.) “Oh, no, we’re the only people who know how it’s built, so only we can put it out. We’ll take care of it, that way we can rebuild it and resell it later, and recoup some of our investment.”

    In fact, we all agree that reasonable building codes specify things like smoke alarms, sprinklers and the location of standpipes so that municipal fire departments can step in and take over when things get out of control.

    The alternative in this offshore drilling scenario is a set of regulations that include engineering specs for the blowout preventers and the whole wellhead, such that “the government” (Coast Guard? Navy? EPA?) could move in and understand/mate with the wellhead.

    It’s easier to imagine this role being subcontracted out to some private sector specialist (a cross between Red Adair and the USN Seals) that would provide an elite response – to gov’t specs and under gov’t control – paid for by the companies doing the drilling. Perhaps they’d put up a massive bond.

  3. bubbaquimby Says:

    Exactly what WHQ said. I understand the critique that small gov’t can lead to problems but the answer isn’t always bigger gov’t will handle the problem.

    The problem is lax regulators and regulation. If those things are actually enforced and monitored than the private business can do what they should do when a problem arises.

    As WHQ said, there are way too many things that can happen in private industries for the federal gov’t to take over when accidents happen. You would have to nationalize all energy industries. Something I doubt most people would want to see.

  4. gerryf Says:

    Pehaps, but for more than 30 years now the mantra of government was LESS regulation and FEWER regulators. Cut the red tape. Cut the taxes.

    It is those taxes that ensured regulators could properly regulate and supervise the process.

    Saying government should have the equipment and manpower to shut this down might indeed be impractical, due to its infrequency (unlike, say, having a government run fire department) but it is not unreasonable that the government stand there with a big freaking stick and say, “And what are you going to do if….”

    For 30 years, I’ve been listening to the right say “government should get out of the way.”

    Well, the government got out of the way; in this case, so far out of the way that all they can do is stand there and go “tsk, tsk, tsk”

    Just like the government got out of the way of the financial system, and when it collapsed it went “tsk, tsk, tsk”

    Just like when the government got out of the way of businesses who exported jobs overseas and brought back tainted products and went, “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

    I love the tea party sign holders who hold up those “Hows that Hope and Change” working out for you, blaming the Dems for 30+years of Republican rule.

    I can only wonder, how is this 30 years of “getting out of the way” working for us?

    Drill baby drill

  5. WHQ Says:

    I’m not sure who you were responding to gerryf, but I’m with you. You’ll get no argument from me. The response at this point should be “BP, you will pay for this – all of it. And all you other oil companies better watch your a$$es, too.” I’m not sure someone shouldn’t be going to jail, but I’d need more info.

  6. Lee Thomas Says:

    Remember we are dealing with people here. Real live flesh and blood people.

    Remember Apollo 1? Apollo 13?

    Remember the probe sent to Mars that went missing because some guy forgot to convert his math?

    Disaster.

    Now we find out that an internal investigation reveals that Government Employees tasked with inspecting these sites were doing drugs, taking kickbacks and surfing porn on government computers.

    Who will oversee the overseers?

  7. George Mauer Says:

    Yeah, they could have done things before hand. The feds are at least as at fault as BP.

    However, I still think that they need to exert at least as much influence at the top level right now. If only to minimize the obvious conflicts of interest and undervaluation of risk that are present.

    I blogged about this here: http://georgemauer.net/blog/blowing-off-oil-non-programming/

    * Captcha: the crummier

  8. Chris Says:

    I seem to remember reading something several years back about the bush administration stacking the regulators with their cronies. I wonder if that played into it at all.

  9. Lee Thomas Says:

    STacking any agency with cronies is what All administrations do. We are all human beings with wants, desires and needs and vices. The government might be a non living entitity but it is staffed with real live human beings. Just like any corporation.

    Our US Government is no different then any corporation. The bottom line is the bottom line. The only real difference is that any corporation if they owed what the US government owed would be bankrupt and out of business right now.

    However the US government has a monopoly. There ain’t no one else to compete with and so they can do what they please. If we don’t like it we vote out one batch of Liars, thiefs and cheats and vote in another group of liars, cheats and thiefs.

    The culture that the government cronies inspires can be seen in Katrina and now this blow out. When disaster hits the fan and the scrutiny turns up full blast the Government melts just like any corporation.

    The answer is not less regulation or less legislation. The answer is smarter regulations and smarter legislation. Smarter people in charge and better people overseeing their little fiefdoms.

  10. Simon Says:

    gerryf Says:

    Pehaps, but for more than 30 years now the mantra of government was LESS regulation and FEWER regulators. Cut the red tape. Cut the taxes. ¶ It is those taxes that ensured regulators could properly regulate and supervise the process.

    Indeed. Before deregulation, there were never accidents with potentially disasterous consequences.

    Justin says:

    And why don’t we “have the capacity to do that?” Oh…could it be that we’ve trusted private enterprises too much with our safety?

    Indeed. Government-run programs never suffer catastrophic accidents.

  11. Simon Says:

    bubbaquimby Says:

    The problem is lax regulators and regulation. If those things are actually enforced and monitored than the private business can do what they should do when a problem arises.

    I haven’t seen anything supporting the conclusion that more stringent ex ante regulation would have prevented or mitigated this catastrophe. The problem isn’t lax regulators, it’s the fact that the wellhead is a mile underwater, where it takes more than a smile to operate effectively. There’s a limit to what technology can do, and I’m not convinced by Justin’s tacit assertion (it lurks in his comment quoted above) that we would have better tools if only we hadn’t trusted private enterprise to run our oil extraction framework.

  12. Andrew W Says:

    Simon Says:

    “The problem isn’t lax regulators, it’s the fact that the wellhead is a mile underwater, where it takes more than a smile to operate effectively. There’s a limit to what technology can do”

    But that is, exactly, what a regulation should be for. It shouldn’t matter to people if a company is doing something very risky to itself, unless they are investors, but when the company is doing something that puts other people or their property as risk they can and likely should be concerned.

    It is obviously very difficult to do anything at a mile underwater and in general all the oil rigs out there have a pretty fantastic safety record, considering how many spills are truly public knowledge. Yet, especially after this it should make everyone pause if there is a wish to pursue further actions like this. Just as, justified or not, there has been a great deal of concern and questions after the Three Mile Island accident.

    I don’t see how wondering if leaving companies, who in fact should know their business better than the government does, should be left in charge of policing themselves, infers that had the government done it everything would be fine. It is in a companies best interest to do things that look good to their customers so they should in ways that people would think are good, but we know that some do take risks or cut corners and that is what a safety regulation needs to be about.

    Maybe I’m misreading the comments or just haven’t read enough from this site to pick up on the inferences but your complaints strike me as unfair based upon what I read here.

  13. WHQ Says:

    From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

    The BP wellhead had been fitted with a blowout preventer (BOP), but it was not fitted with remote-control or acoustically-activated triggers for use in case of an emergency requiring a platform to be evacuated. It did have a dead man’s switch designed to automatically cut the pipe and seal the well if communication from the platform is lost, but it was unknown whether the switch activated.[64] Regulators in both Norway and Brazil generally require acoustically-activated triggers on all offshore platforms, but when the Minerals Management Service considered requiring the remote device, a report commissioned by the agency as well as drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness.[64] In 2003, the agency determined that the device would not be required because drilling rigs had other back-up systems to cut off a well.[64][65]

    Make of that what you will, but I listened to a radio program a couple weeks ago during which it was stated that several oil companies have been voluntarily installing the redundant acoustically-activated triggers because they have worked so well and saved the oil companies money. Too bad we didn’t require them or that BP didn’t install them voluntarily.

    I have to say, Simon, that your logic can be so rigorous at some times and, apparently, in light of your responses above, rather specious at others. You’ve managed to prove that government regulations and government operations aren’t perfect or foolproof. Since just about nothing is, I’m not sure where that leaves us.

    STacking any agency with cronies is what All administrations do.

    Of course, there can’t be any difference in how much or how thoughtlessly different administrations do this. How many cronies and how qualified they are for their positions might come into play at some point.

    The answer is smarter regulations and smarter legislation.

    I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. I’m not too sure any reasonable person would. But it’s not mututally exclusive of more regulation (or less), depending on the case at hand. Generalizations are nice, though.

    Who will oversee the overseers?

    Their bosses should do that, in a well-run organization. Some organizations are more well-run that others. Of course, the buck has to stop somewhere, which is why we have a president. If you’re really good at picking and training your people, they can do their jobs rather effectively with very little oversight. Now, that would require you to care about what happens and to exercise good judgment (and a number of other things that smart, effective, ethical people do). Is your point that we can’t possibly do any better than we’ve done, so we shouldn’t bother trying, or what?

  14. Simon Says:

    WHQ, I see different emphasis in the text you quoted. It had a dead man’s switch installed to seal the wellhead. It didn’t work. Why do you assume that other means of triggering the seal—both the DMS and the acoustic triggers activate the same sealing process, as I understand it—would have been any more effective? On available facts, the most likely scenario is that the fault is in the sealing mechanism, not the triggering mechanism, making additional triggering mechanisms useless.

  15. Lee Thomas Says:

    Is your point that we can’t possibly do any better than we’ve done, so we shouldn’t bother trying, or what?

    My point is that if you look at the specifics of this accident and deep water drilling you will find a lot of fault that travels through three different presidents.

    The regulations regarding BOP’s was written in 1997 Under Clinton. Updated in July 2001 under Clinton.

    In 2003 Under Bush it was determined that acoustic switches were not needed in the warmer less hostile waters of the Gulf Coast. Its Bush’s fault.

    In 2008 BP was given a waiver by the Minerals Management agency to not conduct an environmental impact study on this drilling site. That was under Obama. Its Obama’s fault.

    Apollo 1 was Under Johnson. Apollo 13 under Nixon. Space Shuttle Challenger was under Reagan. Space shuttle Columbia was under Bush.

    If indeed the buck stops at the President then this is a systemic failure of government. Not of a single president who could not possibly predict any of this and would never be expected too.

  16. gerryf Says:

    MMS was (is) stacked with Bush cronies (still). Obama had not had a chance to load it up with his own yet. One can at least hope that Obama will stack MMS and other agencies with competent cronies (You’re doing a heckuva job Brownie!”)

    Lax government regulations or stringent government regulations (whatever point you are trying to make Simon) have little to do with what caused Three Mile Island to go out of control, so I am not sure what point you are making. Instead, it was misinterpreting the problem based on too much information. If regulation and education would have been better, Three Mile Island need not have happened.

    If anything, the response to Three Mile Island was, “Gee, we better get on the ball.”

    The right almost completely forgot that lesson and began to almost instantly deregulate when Reagan took office.

  17. Agnostick Says:

    Some folks are getting mighty angry!

    Captcha karma: for crimes

  18. WHQ Says:

    If indeed the buck stops at the President then this is a systemic failure of government. Not of a single president who could not possibly predict any of this and would never be expected too.

    Clinton wasn’t president in July 2001. Obama wasn’t president in 2008. So other than the BOP regulations being written in 1997 under Clinton, everything else you mentioned regarding the regulatory failures leading up to this accident occurred under Bush, if you have your dates right.

    Then you mention a bunch of separate accidents in the space program that occurred over a span of 36 years. This proves what exactly? That we sent lots and lots of people into space over the course of 36 years with relatively few accidents?

    What is your point? That we should abolish government? Eliminate regulation? Do away with the presidency? I’m not following.

  19. Chris Says:

    His point is that he’s a corporate apologist, and that we should just bend over and hold onto our ankles.

  20. gerryf Says:

    My fear is that our new President is also beholden to corporations.

    This, the financial crisis–both golden opportunities to implement anything he wanted in financial regulation or energy reform/regulation.

    Instead, Wall Street is wringing its hands in public over the “financial reform” but celebrating in private. Meanwhile, BP is still running the show in the gulf.

    Are things better than they would have been under Bush–definitely. Are they what we all hoped for?

    No.

  21. Lee Thomas Says:

    It was 2009 not 2008 that the waiver was granted. In addition 3 of the 4 top leaders of the MMS were appointed under Obama.

    In July 2001 the updates to the regulations were put in place under the recomendation of a study that had been ongoing under the Clinton Administration and was not voted on by congress or approved by Bush.

    As far as a corporate apologist. Hardly. This accident is squarely in the lap of BP. There were good and sound regulations in place governing deepwater drilling. The spin around the country is to try and play the blame game. Its Bush’s fault. No its Obama’s fault.

    I am coming to the defense of Obama and saying its ludicrous to say this is his fault by pointing out that a bulk of the regulations were written under Clinton and not changed under Bush.

    This BP accident is a systemic failure of government. It is a symptom of a government that is out of control. Trusting the government to protect you is like trusting WalMart to not save a dime because they care so very much about the people they serve.

    In this case we all trusted MMA to protect us. A government agency. They failed. They consist of people. People found lacking. Three of the Four leaders of that agency were appointed by Obama.

    I do not blame Obama for the oil spill. I blame BP. A corporation.

  22. WHQ Says:

    Trusting the government to protect you is like trusting WalMart to not save a dime because they care so very much about the people they serve.

    But, Lee, who should protect us? If it’s not BP, whom you blame, and it’s not the government, which you claim has systemically failed, then who? We all (most of us, anyway) acknowledge that BP is primarily to blame and that our regulatory regime failed to prevent it.

    We’re all pissed about MMA’s apparent on-going bachelor party with the oil industry. But I don’t know what your point is. I think we can do better. Do you not? Do you think that there is no human effort that can make the regulation of off-shore drilling more effective, or what? Yes, people are imperfect, and government can fail, but we don’t have any people that aren’t people.

    Should we just let the oil companies do whatever they want? Would that be better, or should we all bitch to our congresspeople that someone needs to get control over the situation, and write letters to the editor about our dissatisfaction, and blog about how pissed we are, and vote against candidates who are the most connected to and getting the most money from oil companies? Or should we just outlaw off-shore drilling?

    What do you think should be done, and who do you think should do it?

  23. WHQ Says:

    And what gerryf said. It’s like we’re all saying “We failed and we need to do better” and Lee Thomas’ response is “But we failed!”

  24. WHQ Says:

    Maybe this is a step in the right direction, or maybe it’s just political scapegoating. But it’s something.

    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2010/05/obama-fires-mms-chief-elizabeth-birnbaum/1

  25. gerryf Says:

    I love how the right is slamming Obama on this….

    The difference between the right and the left and right is simple:

    After Katrina:
    “Heckuva job, Brownie”

    During oil geyser:
    “Hit the road Birnbaum.”

    Now, is that a satisfying answer? Hell no. I still maintain the Obama administration dropped the ball in more ways than I can count in a defining moment. If someone of substance runs in 2012, my vote is up for grabs. Too severe? I don’t think so. It is moments like this that we learn the most of our leaders and Obama has sorely disappointed (here, with the financial reform, healthcare reform…etc).

    But at least the left recognizes reality; the right makes up their own.

  26. Chris Says:

    I don’t have much of an inclination to vote for obama again, but it always comes down to do I want someone like sarah palin running the country?

  27. Toady Says:

    Here the bottom line:

    Obama is as much to blame for this oil spill as W was for Katrina.

    Whether or not it is fair to assign blame to the Office of the President of the United States is a different question. If you blamed Bush for Katrina, it’s hypocritical to not blame Obama and whine about the political impact of doing so.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    I’m laughing at you guys. You all are more twisted than the pretzel I just ate.

  28. Simon Says:

    gerryf Says:

    Lax government regulations or stringent government regulations (whatever point you are trying to make Simon) have little to do with what caused Three Mile Island to go out of control, so I am not sure what point you are making.

    I am making precisely that point. It is irrational to cite an event as indicative of regulatory failure when there is no evidence that regulation has any rational connection to the event. If the failure lay in the sealing mechanism not the trigger mechanism, as seems overwhlemingly likely, then it is irrelevant whether there were redundant triggering mechanisms, and in turn irrelevant whether regulations required those redundant triggers or not.

    If anything, the response to Three Mile Island was, “Gee, we better get on the ball.” ¶ The right almost completely forgot that lesson and began to almost instantly deregulate when Reagan took office.

    This claim is, subject to the analysis above, irrational. You concede that neither “lax” nor “stringent” regulations have much “to do with what caused Three Mile Island to go out of control,” yet chide the GOP for ignoring some supposed regulatory lesson arising from the incident.

    My fear is that our new President is also beholden to corporations.

    To demonize a particular group and make them an all-purpose onmiporesent villain, and claim that even the most unlikeliest candidates are in cahoots with them, borders on paranoia. If you can tie in a riff on the illuminati and the CFR, I believe you get free admission to the David Icke fanclub.

    WHQ said:

    Clinton wasn’t president in July 2001. Obama wasn’t president in 2008. So other than the BOP regulations being written in 1997 under Clinton, everything else you mentioned regarding the regulatory failures leading up to this accident occurred under Bush, if you have your dates right.

    It seems to me that a President is responsible for responding to what happens on their watch. We can debate whether the Bush or Clinton administrations should have done more to preempt 9/11, but all would agree that 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch, so Bush was responsible for managing 9/11. Likewise Katrina: perhaps there were longstanding failures, but it happened on Bush’s watch, so—federalism issues aside, arguendo—it was Bush’s job to respond. He therefore owns all the criticisms of the shortcomings of the federal response once the wheels were in motion. And likewise Deepwater Horizon: perhaps there were longstanding failures, but it happened on Obama’s watch. He therefore owns all the criticisms of the shortcomings of the federal response once the wheels were in motion.

    Still, I’ll defend Obama to this extent: this was a crisis for the feds to manage, not to fix. As Yuval Levin notes, “It’s like Katrina in that many people’s attitudes regarding the response to it reveal completely unreasonable expectations of government.”

  29. Lee Thomas Says:

    No ones going to protect you. That was the gist of my entire post. You can demand it, petition for it. Beg for it. Lobby for it and cry out in anger for it but in the end. I will support your pleas for it.

    Demanding more Personal Responsibility and accountability from our government. Good luck with that.

  30. gerryf Says:

    Simon,

    Sometimes I wonder if you actually believe the stuff you write, or if you just like to take a contrary view and see if you can argue it. While I agree that this is Obama’s mess and it was his job to manage and he did not do a good job, your assessment of regulation and regulators is incomprehensible.

    You cannot prove that regulations are bad because regulators did not regulate well and you cannot argue that based on the above regulation is too onerous.

    The regulators failed. Obama needs to clean house and get the industry under control using current regulations.

    The current regulations are inadequate to prevent disasters like this. Not only were they inadequate for the kind of offshore drilling we were doing 10 years ago, but they are doubly so under current deep-sea drilling.

    The response to the emergency was inadequate, from BP, from the administration. Here lies the murky waters. Can we ever trust the oil companies who we have seen will lie, obfuscate, underestimate, and procrastinate? Everything they have done was done to mitigate liability.

    At the same time, do we want to create a government response team that will be required once every 20 years?

    This much is clear, this was botched from the beginning because there was no plan. And it wasn’t that this is a total surprise. People have been warning for years that this kind of disaster was not only possible, but LIKELY. I even wrote a comment about this last year and I am not even in the ballpark of informed oil industry expert.

    We have lived under an umbrella of no taxes, shrink services, smaller government, no regulations, free market, business can do no wrong, ignorance of science, denial of reality for more than 30 years now.

    Despite the hilarious (and ignorent) righties who think Obama and the Dems are socialists, “hope and change” are really “more of the same”–there are some minor differences, but “we the people” have been supplanted by “we the corporate.”

    The financial crisis, this oil debacle, the Iraq War–even the healthcare reform–are ample evidence of this.

    Despite what you may think, I have no problem with corporations–provided there is balance. Somewhere in the last 30+ years we turned a corner where the economy (and government) serves the corporations, instead of the corporations working in the economy.

    I wish it were paranoia.

  31. WHQ Says:

    It is irrational to cite an event as indicative of regulatory failure when there is no evidence that regulation has any rational connection to the event.

    Simon, it’s a very distinct possibility that additional triggering mechanisms would not have made a difference and that the sealing mechanism would have failed regardless. It’s also possible that the sealing mechanism failed because of the timing or failure of the triggering. But that is not the only aspect of the regulatory regime that may have come into play here.

    In light of the recent revelations about the behavior of MMS staff over the last several years, there is faily damning evidence that the oil industry has had their way in many aspects of how they do business, how they report on the same, and even how the regulations were written. It appears that the accident may have been initiated by the infusion of seawater into the well rather than mud:

    Just hours before the explosion, a BP representative overruled Transocean employees and insisted on displacing protective drilling mud with seawater.[170] One of the BP representative on board responsible for making the final decision, Robert Kaluza, refused to testify on the Fifth Amendment grounds that he might incriminate himself; Donald Vidrine, another BP representative, cited medical reasons for his inability to testify, as did James Mansfield, Transocean’s assistant marine engineer on board.

    It may be while before we know the root cause(s), if ever, with certainty. But it seems very likely that better oversight could have prevented this at any one of a number of steps leading up the accident. The problems may have been diffuse and the result of a culture of risk-taking.

    There may have been a series of many small but cumulative bad decisions made that increased the overall risk of an event like the one we’re now seeing. And I’m not suggesting that regulators should have been looking over the shoulders of the makers of every one of those decisions. But a good regulatory regime can direct the culture of an industry for the top down.

    It can require robust procedure writing and peer review and the kind of training, accountability and documentation that prevents people from shooting from the hip with a git-er-done, cowboy attitude that naturally arises when too much focus is allowed to be placed on the bottom line in high-risk endeavors.

    If you don’t think regulators doing blow, getting hammered and having sex with the people they’re regulating can lead to bad outcomes in industries like the oil industry that necessarily engages in high-risk endeavors requiring very strict safety measures, then I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. And if you don’t think it’s likely that this current accident could have been prevented with better oversight, in light of what we now know about that oversight, I guess we’ll further have to agree to disagree.

  32. WHQ Says:

    No ones going to protect you. That was the gist of my entire post.

    Lee, this seems a bit too black and white to me. I dont’ think it’s a question of whether someone will or will not protect us. It think it’s a question of how well they will do when they try, which will depend largely on how hard they try. And I think the public and the press can affect how well that happens over time. Otherwise, democracy is a bust.

    We can elect better and smarter people and we can make the ones that fail pay a political price.

    I’ll ask you again – do you not think that we could have done better in regulating the oil industry than we have? Do you think not electing people with strong ties to the oil industry might help?

  33. Lee Thomas Says:

    This country elected the best. BHO is considered the smartest man ever.

    He has been president for 18 months. MMA is filled now with his people.

    And yet the culture of corruption still existed at MMA.

    The last inspection of the Deepwater Horizon was done by a Father and Son team.

    Union Members.

    ::: Multiple reports released on September 10 by the Department of Interior Inspector General found that the Mineral Management Service officials responsible for collecting royalties from oil and gas producers are accused of accepting gifts, trips, and special favors from producers.::: The Wonk Room at Think Progress.

    The date of this article is Sept. 11, 2008.

    The point here is that Bush’s own IG investigated MMA and if they did not clean up their act its not as if Obama and Salazar did not know this was going on when they took office a few months later.

    I am not a finger pointer but perhaps we should outlaw unions. After all union inspectors failed to prevent the deepwater Horizon event while doing drugs and partying down with oil execs.

    I am of course being snarky because I do believe that this was a comedy of errors that regulations would not have prevented. I do not know that for sure because accidents are preventable but in this case I do not believe that additional regulations would have prevented this.

    I can assure you however that there will be an entire new manual written and 100s of new regulations put in place in the next two years because of this.

    I welcome that but sometime in the future another Deepwater Horizon event will happen. I can promise you that.

  34. WHQ Says:

    I do not know that for sure because accidents are preventable but in this case I do not believe that additional regulations would have prevented this.

    Additional regulations probably wouldn’t have, since they would have only meant more regulations not being properly, if at all, enforced. Better enforcement of existing or better regulations may very well have prevented this.

    I’d like to know on what you base your statement that “MMA is filled now with his people.” Did he replace everyone in one fell swoop? Could the culture have changed immediately, in the MMS and the oil industry?

    (I suppose he did the same thing with the Justice Department while tending to two wars and dealing with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Like Simon said, he’s responsible for the response when the crap hits the fan, not everything before. I didn’t blame Bush for 9/11 happening, either.)

    This country elected the best. BHO is considered the smartest man ever.

    Unfortunately, we elected two oil men to the presidency and vice presidency twice before we elected Obama. I’m sure that had nothing to do with the cozy relationship between the oil companies and the regulators.

  35. Lee Thomas Says:

    Three of the top four leadership positions were filled by Obama shortly after he took office.

    http://www.mms.gov/ooc/newweb/directorspage/leadership.htm

    The MMA is unionized. Getting rid of people in one fell swoop because you get a new administration in office is not allowed.

  36. gerryf Says:

    You know, Lee, I wonder if you even take yourself seriously. To make this a union issue is pure foolishness. You must get your information straight from Sean Hannity.

    Do you have evidence that the union protected these union employees? Anything at all? I thought not.

    Yes, three of the four people on that page were Obama appointees, and I am all for brooming them. They have not done a good job of cleaning up Bush’s mess. Let’s not forget Chris Oynes, though, who Bush appointed going out the door. And what were Oynes great accomplishments–he greased the skids for all kinds of Oil company largess.

    If you really want to lay some blame read the Dept of Interior Investigation into MMS–there are loads of problems revealed a horrific case of what is called “regulatory capture,” which happens when industry interests overtake the broader public interest in federal agencies charged with protecting the nation.

    Oh, and all the problems discovered? They happened under oil friendly Bush.

  37. Lee Thomas Says:

    “”"I’ll ask you again – do you not think that we could have done better in regulating the oil industry than we have? Do you think not electing people with strong ties to the oil industry might help?”"”

    I was responding to this question by whq. I found it particularly troubling that being tied to a particular industry should forbid someone from becoming president.

    “”"I am of course being snarky “”" After posting the bit about unions I then admitted to being snarky simply to make a point.

    You really should try reading my posts because in this case I am not against Obama and in fact have been trying to defend him and his administration against what I know is not their fault.

  38. WHQ Says:

    I found it particularly troubling that being tied to a particular industry should forbid someone from becoming president.

    Obviously, being tied to a particular industry doesn’t forbid someone from becoming president. Nor do I think it should. But, if you’re looking for better regulation of a given industry, do you think it would help not to elect people with STRONG ties to that industry? And this isn’t some generalized hypothetical, either. I’m talking about people like Bush and Cheney – a silver-spooned, self-serving know-nothing and a self-serving, mendacious sociopath. People with character may be able to overcome their ties because they have at least some sense of ethics. Those guys, not so much, as we’ve come to learn. Cronyism, indeed.

  39. gerryf Says:

    I apologize for misreading you Lee.

    But, to answer your question, yes–I think being tied to a particular industry SHOULD forbid someone from becoming president. We have lost our moorings as a country. Industry/corporations–whatever you wish to call it–have co-opted our government to the detriment of its citizens.

    There is a huge irony here in that many of the people who are so riled up about “socialism” and “personal freedom” are protesting on behalf of the very industries that are actually depriving them of their personal freedoms.

    President Eisenhower saw it coming with the Military Industrial Complex, but he underestimated how pervasive and pernicious the rise of corporations would be beyond the armaments sector. Finance, medicine, armaments, even the food industry wield so much power over this country it is frightening.

    Our government is no longer working for us and every large scale event/disaster proves that.

    …but, I am sounding like a broken record….

  40. Lee Thomas Says:

    Once again I perceive that you appear to be confusing bias/anger/hatreds of the ex president and vp for self serving regulations.

    Regulations of an industry must be rooted in sound judgment and have intrinsic value and add safety to the industry as a whole and provide for the basic safety of not only the principals but of the public at large.

    Increasing sound regulations is fine with me. That is what I mean by smarter regulations.

    If in your anger you just simply want more regulations and regulations that appear to be directed at two individuals who are no longer even in play, then that is what I caution against. Or else we could and this time Im not being snarky, we could regulate against ties to the Unions who have allowed airplanes to crash. A horrible tragedy but is it one that could have been prevented if we were not unionized?

    I seriously doubt being in a union has any effect on crashes but if a strong enough public reaction demands knee jerk NOT Smart regulation then we end up with unintended consequences that does not in any way help the industry going forward.

    That is simply what I mean by smarter and not more regulations.

    I personally am all for anything that makes the industry safer and saves lives and prevents what happened from ever happening again.

  41. kranky kritter Says:

    But, if you’re looking for better regulation of a given industry, do you think it would help not to elect people with STRONG ties to that industry? And this isn’t some generalized hypothetical, either. I’m talking about people like Bush and Cheney – a silver-spooned, self-serving know-nothing and a self-serving, mendacious sociopath. People with character may be able to overcome their ties because they have at least some sense of ethics. Those guys, not so much, as we’ve come to learn. Cronyism, indeed.

    This is not the sort of stuff or the sort of tone I’ve been accustomed to hearing from WHQ. The tone and perspective coming from WHQ posts has changed enough that I’m suspicious that it’s the same poster.

    “sup WHQ? What happened the the clear balanced measured perspective that I used to be able to rely on from you?

  42. kranky kritter Says:

    I’m going to go ahead and 99% take that back. After reading more stuff farther up (really long thread), I think you’re looking at most of this stuff in a pretty fair way.

    {You have seemed a lot more hostile lately though, FWIW. I don’t want to antagonize you though, I’ve always thought you a sharp and faired-minded thinker in the past.

  43. Chris Says:

    I don’t understand where airplane crashes come into it?

  44. BP’s Logo, Redesigned For 2010 | Prose Before Hos Says:

    [...] Explosion, Naomi Klein: “A Strange Corporate Oil State”, Who Failed at BP, and Why?, Why Isn’t The Government Getting More Involved In Oil Spill?, Deepwater Horizon Situation Map, and BP Deepwater Spill = 4X Worse Than Exxon [...]

  45. Hiker08053 Says:

    Why is the government allowing BP to make choices on how to deal with this without approval from the Whitehouse. Now BP indicates that the second well is the best option, and it will( may) be complete in August. This will never be cleaned up and BP gets a new well and continues to operate. They will declare limits on life long businesses being lost, and not pay off, not clean up and how do we clean up a swamp land ?

    Why not use a federal injunction to seize the profits and cease operations of BP ? They are not telling us all the oil spilling out, now they will attempt another fix, which they could have done after day one. But the real fix will be a new well. That works for BP, but not the people of the Gulf Coast or the US.

  46. WHQ Says:

    KK, I did have a few beers in me when I wrote that last comment, so maybe that’s where the change in tone came from. But I stand behind my characterizations of Bush and Cheney. That’s what I think of them after watching two campaigns, two terms and the aftermath there of. It’s not some prejudicial, knee-jerk judgment I came up with. I don’t how to apply “clear balanced measured perspective” when I’ve come to a conclusion after years of observations that have led me to it. What am I supposed to say about people whom I have a thousand reasons to think ill of? I could see if I were being profane or personally insulting other commenters or making false factual claims why you might think I had gone off the rails, but I don’t see that (except maybe for the use of “sociopath,” since it’s a fairly well-defined clinical term, so I can back off that one and substitute something less scientific, even with a different meaning – “egomaniac” or “powermonger” might do).

    I was also getting frustrated with Lee. He’s probably a decent enough guy, but I don’t get some of his responses. I can’t tell if he’s responding me, another commenter or someone in his head sometimes, and I can’t always tell what his point is, even if, at least partly, I agree with him. Like this, from his last comment:

    If in your anger you just simply want more regulations and regulations that appear to be directed at two individuals who are no longer even in play, then that is what I caution against.

    Can you see anywhere where I said I simply wanted more regulations? And I don’t even know what it would mean to direct regulations at two individuals. What is that?

  47. Jeremy Young Says:

    No holds barred, Laissez-faire economics baby! We get what we deserve. The average American is a politically illiterate, Constitutional imbecile. Our lives are centered around “the American dream.” Which is to say, total ignorance of the consequences of our actions. We prefer short-term comforts over the alternative, reality. There is only so much oil. Only so much nature can absorb. Too many people. Really, does no one understand simple arithmetic? 6.8 billion people. More being born than dieing. The planet is already at near tipping point. And the future only promises more of the same. Humanity, smart enough to destroy itself. Dumb enough to not care.

  48. kranky kritter Says:

    Yeah, I always bristle when someone puts an oversimplified version of my words in my mouth. Getting past that, I think most of us can probably agree that we don’t want regulation for its own sake.

    I share Lee’s reticence to add rules that peremptorily preclude folks from serving in government simply because of their working ties. But those work ties should certainly be part of the consideration when approving an appointment. I’m troubled by the implications of “regulatory capture,” which is a phrase I’ve heard folks using lately to describe the phenomenon where a regulatory agency gets its key positions dominated by appointees from the industry it’s trying to regulate. Obviously, we need technical and industry-specific expertise, so some of that needs to be tolerated, even sought.

    But what we don’t want is to make a regulatory agency toothless, right? We don’t want it filled by small-government, laissez-faire, “I’m sure it will be fine” folks. And we don’t know for sure to what extent that happened with the oil industry. But I think it’s fair to speculate on the nature of the regulatory bias of Bush appointees to positions regulating the oil industry.

    And more importantly, I think it’s pretty fair to say that the results of this drilling mishap are direct evidence that the oil industry doesn’t have anything resembling sufficiently redundant environmental safety procedures for risky deep water oil drilling. At a glance (I haven’t dug deep into technical details), it sounds like the safety procedures ended with a valve that was supposed to close automatically. If the valve failed, the only safety plan was to initiate an ass-covering festival while scrambling for a bunch of oh sh!t what do we do now crisis plans.

    The scope of the potential for damage from a big spill seems to most sane folks to dictate that spill crisis plans (and capability and resources) should already have been in place. And it’s pretty disgraceful that they weren’t. At a defcon 5 level of WTF.

  49. Dave Says:

    Information on oil spills, what they do, and how they are removed: http://scienceray.com/biology/ecology/oi…

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