Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The most unloved heroes in America 

Oil continues to pour out of a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and BP Plc is the latest corporate villain by dint of its ownership of the hole and its failure to plug it after more than a month of trying. Whether the company survives the disaster probably depends on whether it stops the oil before hurricane season gets in to full swing. Regardless, the executives and employees of BP are under siege, just trying to survive the present and worrying whether they have any future.

There will be time to sort out culpability in some imperfect political or prosecutorial process. We will blame some of the right people, but it is a lot more probable than not that we will also blame some of the wrong people and omit to blame at least some person or institution that will escape the gauntlet of hearings and depositions. That spectacle will come as night follows day.

In the last few days, however, I've been thinking about other people, the nameless men and women who will actually remediate this disaster.

Somewhere within BP true heroes are working night and day to stop the gusher and clean up its consequences. These people -- everybody from petroleum engineers to the rough men and women who work in oil fields in the world's most challenging environments to the machinists and welders who labor around the clock to build the next solution -- are not, in the main, responsible for the disaster. They are responsible for ending it. They are not known to us as individuals. In the current climate, where liberal activists intimidate the families of corporate executives to gain leverage, they no doubt hope to remain anonymous. They are working around the clock, to the point of exhaustion, in conditions, both physical and emotional, more stressful than most American employees (including many who complain about all the stress they are under) can possibly comprehend. They will eventually solve this problem they did not create. At the moment of their success, which no doubt will come, these men and women will have prevented staggering incremental damage. Their only reward, though, will be relief and the satisfaction of a job well done.

I respectfully submit that the anonymous employees of BP and its contractors who are devoting themselves to plugging the hole and cleaning up the oil are, perhaps, the most heroic people in America right now. I'm one American who is grateful for you, and wish you the strength and wisdom to finish the daunting task before you.


By Anonymous feeblemind, at Tue May 25, 09:02:00 AM:

I have thought about the employees working on containing the spill as well TH. I haven't been thinking of them as heroic. I have been thinking about the stress they are working under. They must be taking tremendous heat from their corporate masters to get the job done, working in extremely difficult conditions while some jackass in a corporate suite calls every 5 minutes to see how things are progressing.  

By Anonymous Jeff Foreman, Iowa '83!, at Tue May 25, 09:12:00 AM:

I am concerned about kneejerk reactions such as those of "feeblemind"; the seemingly automatic conclusion that management is evil, that only those with evil intent somehow occupy positions of authority in corporations. Times like these call, perhaps more than most, for objectivity and a single minded focus on resolving the issue. Backseat drivers after the accident almost always prove to be of little use.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Tue May 25, 09:15:00 AM:

Drilling oil and gas wells has always been potentially dangerous, a fact not always appreciated by those not associated with the ol' biznes. I knew an engineer for our company who was on his week off when the offshore rig he worked on went down in a storm. I once got five hours of sleep in five days dealing with a gas well which had very narrow parameters(margins of error) to deal with, made even more problematic when you consider that the parameters were based on estimates about what was occurring 15,000 feet below the surface.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue May 25, 09:51:00 AM:

Whew, when I saw the post title I was worried it was going to be Ron and Rand Paul, or maybe the Texas (and Arizona) State Education Board. I'm relieved...

When corporate assholes clog the toilet with load after load, wads of TP, cigars and other accoutremants of power/excess, yes we naturally both cheer and pity the poor janitor. Yet somehow, and unjustly, the janitor suffers guilt by association. Even in the Massey Electric mine disaster and current fallout. Even more unjust--the janitor's likely the first to be laid off once the situation fades behind the next big splash.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Tue May 25, 10:47:00 AM:

I liked the post by TH. I don't think feeblemind was flying into the deep end. For true knee jerk reactions, proclaiming the cause before gathering the evidence, none can beat the President who announced that the whole mess was BP's fault. Nobody else screwed up. Certainly nobody in the government. Couldn't have been a failure to attend to one's responsibility by one of the Presidents Apparatchiks either, nothing to see there. Nobody spilt their coffee in a gust of wind, got momentarily distracted and forgot to finish tightening a bolt.


By Blogger dr kill, at Tue May 25, 04:48:00 PM:

Fuck BP, fuck them and all their brand- new bean counters. They have systematically forced out all the experienced, old-time hands through a policy of relentless pressure and termination of anyone who thinks for himself or doesn't drink the BP kool-ade.
Don't try to have fun working for BP.
Anyone who knows how to stop a leak like this or avoid one in the first place is been gone over the past 5 years as the MBA assholes have exterminated the drillers and tool pushers who come up the hard way. They can kiss my white ass. Go sell some other simpleton on alt energy. Go make some adverts with Newt and Nancy.
Drilling is too important to be left to the MBA suck ups.
Even the oil patch is corporate now.  

By Blogger OSweet, at Tue May 25, 05:47:00 PM:

Nah, much easier to assume I'm righteous and EVERYONE connected to the oil industry is evil, and that while I may indeed drive a car (no, not a Prius, but a Jeep Cherokee, cuz I need the power, when I go up the mountain to go skiing), I know FOR A FACT that dark forces composed of Republicans and neoliberals keep us in thrall to oil, when new, clean-green technologies are already viable to replace it. I've in fact seen a couple of heroic documentaries proving this.  

By Anonymous JimmyNashville, at Tue May 25, 05:52:00 PM:

What is it about our culture that requires for there to be someone to blame. There's no such thing as a tragedy anymore. And we, as Americans, seem to need to see someone pay; even if there's no benefit to us at all.

In truth an institution that was adding value to the economy, BP, will end up paying money to another institution that ads no value, the US government; and for some reason everyone will sit around the sidelines cheering this heavy handed redistribution of resource and wealth.

What kind of society are we that we first demand heads rather than solutions.  

By Blogger paul a'barge, at Tue May 25, 06:01:00 PM:

"I respectfully submit that the anonymous employees of BP and its contractors who are devoting themselves to plugging the hole and cleaning up the oil are..." ...

getting paid for it. Big time. Over time. Hardship wages.

They're not called heroes. They're called "employees" and they're doing what they get paid to do.  

By Blogger paul a'barge, at Tue May 25, 06:02:00 PM:

JimmyNashville: What kind of society are we that we first demand heads rather than solutions

There are no solutions.

I'll take heads, any day.

Bring 'em. Chop 'em. What ever. At least do something.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue May 25, 06:03:00 PM:

Great post. Interesting responses, also.
It seems "capitialism hatred" is now an acceptable hate by some people. Funny, I didn't get the memo.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 25, 06:48:00 PM:

Yeah, I don't absolve BP of this, the blowout occurred on their watch. The cementing took place under their purview. The blowout preventer operates under their purview. The platform sank after being sprayed with water for many hours, under their purview. If it had remained afloat, we would not have oil pouring into the Gulf.

They must answer for these failures.  

By Anonymous gus3, at Tue May 25, 07:15:00 PM:

The cementing took place under their purview. The blowout preventer operates under their purview. The platform sank after being sprayed with water for many hours, under their purview.

And both were recently certified as "really, really good!" by the Obama administration. But, no culpability for them, noooooo...

If it had remained afloat, we would not have oil pouring into the Gulf.

Speculation on your part, which can never be proven right or wrong.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Tue May 25, 07:42:00 PM:

From the May 15 WSJ:
What is known from drilling records and congressional testimony is that after the morning meeting, the crew began preparations to remove from the drill pipe heavy drilling "mud" that provides pressure to keep down any gas, and to replace this mud with lighter seawater.
Ultimately, the crew removed the mud before setting a final 300-foot cement plug that is typically poured as a last safeguard to prevent combustible gas from rising to the surface. Indeed, they never got the opportunity to set the plug.

What will occur when you replace dense drilling mud/fluid with much less dense seawater? Formation fluids-oil and gas- will rush into the wellbore. 1) Which is what you do not want to occur. 2) Which is what occurred. Surprise, surprise. Which is why you want to set the cement plug when you have the dense drilling fluid backing it up. Keep it simple.

BP messed up. An ounce of prevention - heavy mud- is worth a pound of cure- Blowout Preventers and such equipment functioning.  

By Blogger Paul Baker, PE, at Tue May 25, 07:44:00 PM:

Don't forget that this is the same company that pushed for the release of the Lockerbie bomber on the basis of getting a contract with Libya. Through the miracle of Libyan medicine, he has now lived a full 6 months beyond the 3 months that was predicted by the Socialist doctor. I have no sympathy for this company, and I will continue to refuse to purchase their products.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 25, 07:45:00 PM:

Shit happens. Nuff said.

Now lets work through it and then figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.  

By Anonymous comatus, at Tue May 25, 07:51:00 PM:

See Jimmy Stewart and Dan Duryea in Anthony Mann's "Thunder Bay" (1953).

We're messing with the building blocks of the universe here. It's cool as hell, as cool as deep space probes or subatomic collisions, and here we sit all whiny.

It's a job for men, and it looks like we're pulling up a little short.  

By Blogger randian, at Tue May 25, 08:21:00 PM:

Anyone who knows how to stop a leak like this or avoid one in the first place is been gone over the past 5 years as the MBA assholes have exterminated the drillers and tool pushers who come up the hard way.

If that's true then why hasn't the government located these people and enlisted their help? The problem could have been solved weeks ago!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 25, 08:33:00 PM:

Right now we need Dick Cheney as VP rather than Biden.  

By Blogger dr kill, at Tue May 25, 08:36:00 PM:

If that's true then why hasn't the government located these people and enlisted their help? The problem could have been solved weeks ago!

Hahahaha, I know, let's find Bruce Willis. Hahahaha. get real.

In the movies sometimes they used to find a hero. There are no American heroes now. Doesn't fit the Prog narrative.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue May 25, 09:06:00 PM:

JimmyNashville - whether we blame someone depends on the situation. When Obama commemorated Daniel Pearl, he blamed no one for his execution, referring to it as a "loss," and claiming that it illustrated the "importance of a free press." As opposed to the taking of American lives, specifically Jewish ones, whether they are reporters or not.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue May 25, 09:57:00 PM:

To be clear, I do not absolve BP the corporation, or even its management team. This post was explicitly about the people at BP and its contractors who are not responsible for the original disaster.

As for the commenter who suggested that the BP people were being paid, and therefore not heroic, the same may be said about virtually everybody who does great things in the modern world. Sports heroes? All paid. Celebrity heroes? All paid. Even soldiers and dudes who work for the Peace Corps are paid. People who do important things, at any level, are rarely primarily moved by the money.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 25, 10:39:00 PM:

Had volunteered to help with the cleanup - then the press interviews BP contractors waiting on the spill to come on shore - folks from California, Texas, etc. being paid in excess of $1k per week to sit and wait - local fisherman,unemployed locals, etc. who could be employed sit idle. Why volunteer when BP brings in these contractors and thumb their nose at the locals who are anxious to be a part of the clean up and have a vested interest? Am not a "BP is the spawn of Satan" person, but a little compassion for the local economy, please.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Tue May 25, 11:25:00 PM:

The poor Louisiana fishermen!

They either curse the oil companies for the spill...or they support Obama's energy "policy' and quadruple their fuel prices.

Either way they get screwed.

Of course, a sensible energy policy would have the off shore wells carefully inspected and policies in place for just such emergencies.

But, hell, why waste a good crisis??!! There's VOTES to be had!!


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 25, 11:35:00 PM:

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree wholeheartedly with Tigerhawk. The people down in Houma, Robert, Mobile, and many other offices are working looooooong hours to remedy this situation (my wife is one of those people). I consider each of them, BP, contractors, and government employees, to be heroes worthy of our respect. The suits that skimped on safety procedures, the government regulators who looked the other way, and the politicians who enabled all of it, they deserve a special place in hell.  

By Blogger AST, at Wed May 26, 02:54:00 AM:

I've got an idea. Take every blogger, including me, along with every Congressperson and department head and fools who has no idea how to fix this and has done nothing but yell at BP, stuff them down the well and let their egos continue to inflate, it'll be shut down overnight.  

By Anonymous BHP BILLITON, at Wed May 26, 03:42:00 AM:

British Petroleum:

Forget what you are doing and hire us - we'll fix the blowout in one week.

Price: 1.7 billion dollars Australian, payable in cash; and sign over the well to us too.

Know-how costs money.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed May 26, 10:26:00 AM:

I certainly hope that there is no support here for referring to this entire disaster as "the Obama spill."  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed May 26, 10:49:00 AM:

In a perfect and just world, a President of the US would get just as much blame for the slow and ineffective Federal response to a hurricane as the slow and ineffective Federal response to a major oil well blowout. So in my efforts to make the US a more perfect and just place, I would like to say: “Where was the President when all this was going on? Playing golf? Taking a vacation? I’m outraged!”

Oh, and I'll quit calling it the "Obama spill" when Katrina quits being called Bush's Disaster. Sauce for the goose...  

By Blogger Jim, at Wed May 26, 11:26:00 PM:

Thanks for this -- I couldn't agree more.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed May 26, 11:59:00 PM:

obama needs to get off the basketball court & back in the White House & learn how to be a President instead of a cheerleader to a certain player I will not even mention his name. It does not deserve to be mentioned when we have such a disaster like this oil spill in the coast killing all in its wake.
I do have to agree with Georgfelis when he says, OH and I'll quit calling it the "Obama spill" when Katrina quits being called Bush's Disaster. Sauce for the goose...  

By Blogger Noumenon, at Thu May 27, 01:07:00 AM:

I've been imagining not just regular employees working long shifts, but engineers from all over phoning up with brilliant solutions. I bet they're excited to work on this high-profile problem.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Thu May 27, 09:27:00 AM:

Add this to the ledger:


By Blogger David, at Thu May 27, 09:47:00 AM:

Linked: worthwhile reading & viewing  

By Blogger diamond jim, at Fri May 28, 03:50:00 PM:

A lot of off-topic comments here - a lot of anger. I drill oil wells for a living. I've seen the the impractical stuff come from "the office" and how much time and money it wastes. Clearly there were some mistakes made, maybe even by the guys at the coal-face. I pity anyone who feels they could have done something different to avert the disaster, but getting back to the subject of heros, three cheers for Tigerhawk, who speaks of the debt of gratitude all who are NOT there owe to those who are. Anger, cynicism, arrogance etc... are all natural responses, but I'm all for tipping my hat to the ones who have stepped into the breech, or just find themselves there. As in war, the cause may not be just, but the soldiers who fight it deserve to be recognized as the heros they are, not forgotten in the inevitable aftermath. Let's appreciate them (and each-other) more.  

By Blogger jim, at Sat May 29, 10:41:00 PM:

BP = Heros? Is this some kind of sick joke?

BP made this happen: the problems that led to the explosion were happening for many days if not weeks beforehand, & supervisors ordered the crew to ignore them & perform multiple unsafe procedures (like using 2 plugs instead of 3, or ignoring pieces of rubber coming up from the disintegrating annular) in order to expidite faster re-opening of the well.

This isn't "Obama's Katrina" but it sure as hell is the Coast Guard's. They more or less invented booming to keep oil off beaches & definitely know how to do it right, but they're patently doing it wrong, wasting a lot of time, money & energy. Fishgrease on DKos recently posted a diary (very NSFW language) explaining how to boom oil-spills successfully, & pointing out that the Coast Guard has no excuse whatsoever for the slipshod "photo-op-friendly" booms they're now laying down along the Louisiana coastline.

The Coast Guard's catastrophic failure is going to leave the Gulf Coast damaged for many years to come.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 30, 06:46:00 PM:

As one of the "heroes" (which, let's be clear, I'm not one and am not comfortable being called one) in Robert, let me just say that stress and exhaustion doesn't do any justice to the way most of the people who are here feel. Some have been working 16-20 hours a day, 7 days a week, for over a month. I'd like to see anyone of these morons who blog on here to work those kind of hours. Thank you for all of you who appreciate the hard work we are doing here. This blog gave me a great sense of pride to continue to kick ass despite the pressure, stress and gross lack of sleep.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon May 31, 02:51:00 AM:

"Fishgrease on DKos recently posted a diary (very NSFW language) explaining how to boom oil-spills successfully"

Yep, that was BP's big mistake, not consulting w/Kos before drilling a mile deep in the ocean ...  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Mon May 31, 02:12:00 PM:

Partial repost from above.

Deepwater is a near exact repeat of the worst oil drilling disaster ever - the 1979 Ixtoc blowout which was also in the Gulf, but off the coast of Mexico. It took ten months to stop Ixtoc even though Ixtoc was only in 150 feet of water.

Accidents happen. They can be reduced in number, but risk is still there. A Deepwater blowout was a foreseeable risk. Now here's what's inexcusable:

Part of the 1994 Master Plan for dealing with the risk of another Gulf blowout was to use fire booms to corral the oil near the spill and then burn it off. If I have this right, drillers in the Gulf were taxed to fund the Master Plan but the US government never bought the equipment. You can blame any or all of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations for this.

Fire booms would have worked here. "[former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet -- who helped craft the 1994 plan] speculated that burning could have captured 95 percent of the oil as it spilled from the well."

You can blame BP, but you can't let the Federal Government off the hook.

ps. Ixtoc was a Pemex project. As to US damage claims, especially severe in Texas, Mexico claimed sovereign immunity and didn't pay a dime.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Mon May 31, 08:11:00 PM:


I looked at some of the Fishgrease DKos stuff. Fishgrease claims to be a leftie who has worked in oil exploration for 30 years. He's nuttier than even I am, but may be legit -- stranger personal profiles are out there.
One of his big arguments is that proper booming can deal with a lot of the problem. He says that BP has a team in charge that only knows how to drill. To drillers, "booming is for pussies." [Insert condom methaphor here.]
He says that the Coast Guard's near shore booming efforts are just for photo op -- they just don't have nearly enough boom to do it properly. i.e. you need a lot of boom to create overlapping channels to direct the oil into collection areas. A single line of boom off shore isn't effective.

My point just above is that there was a Master Plan to do offshore booming with in situ burning -- it even got funding.

Thus, if we had spent something like $50 - $100 million -- maybe even a lot less -- for offshore boom and onshore boom beforehand we'd have been able to reduce the damage significantly. Am I wrong?
Fishgrease says that the onsite use of dispersals will only make the problem worse long term. We'll have big tarballs on Gulf beaches for years.

Even a leftie can be right.  

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