From what we know now, the president should appoint an Ass Kicking Czar.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) approved the use of the “long string” technique at the mile-plus depth that the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well was working. Without going into detail, this single-pipe, single seal design is quicker, cheaper and riskier than the two-pipe, double-seal “liner tieback” technique used in deep water by most exploration rigs. I know, I know … that was Bush’s MMS. More on this later.
An examination by The New York Times highlights the chasm between the oil industry’s assertions about the reliability of its blowout preventers and a more complex reality. It reveals that the federal agency charged with regulating offshore drilling, MMS, repeatedly declined to act on advice from its own experts on how it could minimize the risk of a blind shear ram failure. Most rigs use two blind shear rams in their blowout preventers at these depths.
On February 13, BP notified the federal government that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was leaking oil and natural gas into the ocean floor. In fact, according to documents in the administration’s possession, BP was fighting large cracks at the base of the well for ~10 days in early February, and was asking for the administration’s help on this matter long before the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded. Six weeks before to the rig’s fatal explosion an engineer from UCal-Berkeley, announced to the world a near miss on the platform by stating, “They damn near blew up the rig.”
With all of this institutional knowledge in-hand, and BP’s proven cost-cutting methodology well known – an Alaska Pipeline spill and Texas City refinery explosion already under their belt – it was Obama’s MMS that presented the Deepwater Horizon Macondo platform a safety award a week before the explosion.
BP executives and Deepwater Horizons supervisors had a rather loud argument over using a thinner-walled pipe (than was currently being used) and switching to a less viscous “flushing” fluid, both of which Deepwater Horizon objected to, saying they mitigated protection against a methane bubble making its way to the surface where it could easily ignite. This just hours before the explosion. Upon being picked up by the Coast Guard, a Deepwater employee engaged in a satellite phone conversation with BP was overheard saying, “I hope you’re happy now … the f****** rig is burning!” It continued to burn, and eventually sank. The eleven people actively working the wellhead were killed and the rest jumped ten stories into the water.
Having ignored – nay, awarded – the Macondo situation before, the administration was now forced to act.
Once the well was destroying itself, division of labor became obvious – BP had to stop the bleeding, and the administration had to mitigate the damage. Neither has been done.
As offers for help began to pour in, the administration should have immediately lifted the Jones Act (as President Bush did the day after Katrina found landfall). A state of emergency could been declared within days of the explosion, activating FEMA (this has not yet been done). All efforts to close the rupture were failing, and assuming they were tried in order of probability of working, attention should have immediately been shifted to stopping the oil from reaching shore. We monitored it instead. Once oil began reaching shore, attention should have immediately been shifted to mitigating it and cleaning it up. We are arguing over safety equipment on vacuum barges and specifications for booms instead. And threatening to sue BP out of existence while demanding that they cooperate with us.
Dr Michael Pravica (UNLV) holds a Harvard PhD in high-pressure physics and studies hydrocarbons – constituents of oil – under extreme conditions. Dr Pravica estimates that the oil pressure at the leak is at least 17,000psi, and says, “I don’t know of any traditional valves that can seal 17,000psi.” At this point, he explains, the situation calls for a brute-force solution, which he can’t get BP to consider because they are still trying to save their wellhead (presumably for production once the bleeding has been stopped). He’s not sure why the administration won’t listen to him.
Acting like a novice without – or without taking advantage of – available industrial expertise, President Obama shut down all deepwater exploratory drilling in the Gulf, throwing an additional 12,000 Gulf residents out of work (20,000 if you count support personnel). The reasonable thing to do would have been to shut down all BP platforms until inspectors could re-evaluate their modus operendi. Shut down all deepwater exploratory wells using long string techniques until cause-and-effect of the Macondo incident is ascertained. But shutting down everybody smacks either of an amateur or of a political “visual”. The courts agree, having ruled yesterday that the moratorium was harmful and unduly arbitrary. The administration is appealing that decision.
We are now blessed with a White House that is suing the people of Arizona for trying desperately to protect themselves from an indifferent federal government, and is appealing a court ruling in order to keep already devastated Gulf residents out of work. How’s that for Hopeychange?
 Of the 218 deepwater wells drilled in the Gulf since 2003, 56 (26%) are long string, but most are on production wells into known reserves where the water column and seafloor geometry are well understood. BP uses long string on 35% of its deepwater Gulf wells, and the Macondo was an exploratory well. Russell Gold and Tom McGinty, BP Relied on Cheaper Wells, in Wall Street Journal, June 19 2010, p. A1.
 David Barstow, Laura Dodd, James Glanz, Stephanie Saul and Ian Urbina, Regulators Failed to Address Risks in Oil Rig Fail-Safe Device, in New York Times, June 21 2010, p. A1.
 Kevin McCullough, Should President Obama Resign Over Februay 13?, FOX News, June 22 2010.
 Julia Gorin, Why Aren’t BP and Elected Officials Listening to this High-Pressure Physicist?, in Jewish World Review, June 22 2010.