Friday, May 28, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Reflections On T. Boone Pickens, Politics, Obama, Bureaucrats , Anarchy And The Rule Of Law

T. Boone Pickens, the oil, gas and wind baron, knows something about oil well leaks. On the Larry King Live show Thursday, Pickens said he doubts BP's efforts to "top kill" the oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico will be successful.

He said the only sure fire way of capping the leak is by drilling two parallel lines and hoping one intersects below the ruptured pipe 8,000 feet into the earth's crust.
I'm sitting in front of the television set congratulating King for finally asking pertinent questions and Pickens suspending his brief promoting his wind farm machines and appearing candid about the slow-motion disaster going on along the Gulf Coast.

Transcripts of King's Thursday show are not yet available, but going on memory I developed some vivid recollections.

Pickens seemed to be saying even if the "top kill" and "junk shot" efforts by BP were successful, there was no guarantees it would last because of the thousands of pounds of pressure blasting forever against the stopgap devise.

The old oil man smirked a Cheshire cat grin when asked why BP stopped pumping heavy mud into the broken 21-inch pipe at midnight Wednesday not to resume the pumping until late Thursday afternoon. BP executives said it was to conduct tests and evaluate the progress.

Pickens didn't deny that but placed a more satisfactory explanation that BP ran out of mud and it took 18 hours for another ship to arrive to replace it, when coincidentally, pumping suddenly resumed.

Once the oil platform rigs successfully reach and connect to the broken Deepwater Horizons pipe, Pickens seemed to indicate it was okay for BP to continue pumping full time as if nothing happened, or, as is said, business as usual.

He scoffed at the Obama administration's shutdown on the other 33 exploratory rigs and moratorium on hundreds of other deep-water wells in full operation. He compared the situation the same as a major airline crash where all airline traffic is not suspended while the cause of the crash site is investigated. His argument is you learn and improve from the crash, not by shutting down the entire industry.

The politics of the Gulf oil spill sometimes takes on the role of a pinata where blindfolded participants whack away their frustrations at an inanimate object that when hammered enough spills small pieces of candy.

That I suppose is what people expect from their president who represents the government which is selling itself as responsible which is to see BP clean up its mess. The fact is what's good for BP in a business sense is not always what's good for the people who see their beaches and marshes and estuaries filled with a sweet chocolate and cherry syrup that smells repugnant. And kills every living creature in the wildlife ecosystem.

Like hundreds of thousands, I watched President Obama sticking his hands in dried oil globs on Fourchon Beach, La., Friday and talk with the locals, oil executives, cleanup workers  and Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard Commandant in charge of the government's supervision.

“I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, you will not be left behind,” he said. “The media may get tired of the story, but we will not. We will be on your side and we will see this through.”

Later during his brief trip on a Memorial Day weekend, Obama visited Grand Isle, La., where the beach has been closed for a week since the oil globs began washing ashore before the eyes of angry residents.

“It’s a dog and pony show. What can he really do?” said Billy Ward, 53, who goes to Grand Isle with his family every weekend to stay in their beach house. “If he wants to do something, let him get out there and pump some mud and cement into that hole. Just fix it. Help us.”

The truth is, no matter what Obama does, it isn't enough. Even from his staunchest supporters.

Howard Fineman, an MSNBC political analyst and usually an Obama ally, said on Chris Matthews' Hardball show on that cable network Thursday, that the president rather than three or four hours, should spend the weekend on the Gulf coast to show his concern.

Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania and close friend of both Obama and former President Bill Clinton, suggested with a smile that Clinton would show his love by donning Scuba diving gear and view the underwater oil plumes first hand.

I think Obama gave the nation a clue without saying it in words in his Thursday press conference. Many of his comments were bogged down in the legal aspects and challenges circumventing the Oil Pollution Act signed into law in August 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in Alaska.

As the one-hour presser progressed, Obama was explaining the role of BP in charge of capping the leak and for the cleanup responsibility with the government monitoring each decision. At the end, Obama asserted "I take full responsibility" and the government's response to the cleanup will be proactive.

Here was a lawyer changing positions in midstream during the course of an hour. It was as if he suddenly remembered to put on his underwater diving equipment ala images of Bill Clinton.

The federal response to the April 20 Deepwater Horizons oil spill has been handcuffed by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act. It is hesitation and uncertainty seen in earlier decisions made by Coast Guard Adm. Mary Landry, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, the Corps of Army Engineers and Adm. Allen.

Allen told Chris Matthews Thursday that the chain of command between him and Obama is Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary. Yet, he admits all his decisions are in consultation with BP.

It was Allen who downplayed the magnitude of the oil spilled from the leak, a position taken by BP. until the gusher would be capped, eventually. It was Allen who knew but did nothing until 10 days ago that BP had submersible cameras on the gusher since the beginning.

These are bureaucrats following the rule of law. How the law is addressed is outlined on the EPA's website for emergency management. I will reprint the overview:

The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was signed into law in August 1990, largely in response to rising public concern following the Exxon Valdez incident. The OPA improved the nation's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills by establishing provisions that expand the federal government's ability, and provide the money and resources necessary, to respond to oil spills. The OPA also created the national Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is available to provide up to one billion dollars per spill incident.
In addition, the OPA provided new requirements for contingency planning both by government and industry. The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency has been expanded in a three-tiered approach: the Federal government is required to direct all public and private response efforts for certain types of spill events; Area Committees -- composed of federal, state, and local government officials -- must develop detailed, location-specific Area Contingency Plans; and owners or operators of vessels and certain facilities that pose a serious threat to the environment must prepare their own Facility Response Plans.
Finally, the OPA increased penalties for regulatory noncompliance, broadened the response and enforcement authorities of the Federal government, and preserved State authority to establish law governing oil spill prevention and response.

I read the key provisions of the Oil Pollution Act and will be damned if I can figure out what the problem is. Of course, I'm not a government employee nor a lawyer.

What the Gulf Coast residents are clamoring for is not excuses but action. If I were a shrimper, and my harvest grounds were coated in oil, following the law would be the last thing on my mind if I could have prevented it.

That's the argument Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is taking to save his beaches. Act and worry about the legal niceties later.
That's the best argument I've heard for anarchy in a long time.

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