What BP and the Government Could Have Done and Should Be Doing
The handling of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is a textbook study of how not to manage a crisis. The government seems to have ceded responsibility to BP, which seems to have acted to protect the Macondo oil field rather than the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast.
It seems clear that neither BP nor the government were prepared for an event like this. At a minimum, both BP and the government should have had an understanding of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of an accident and, more importantly, an ability to shut off the flow of oil – to minimize the damage - as is the case with rigs operating in the waters of the North Sea.
BP's initial public statements were clearly inaccurate. On May 14, 2010, while BP was emphasizing 5,000 barrels per day reaching the surface, NPR reported scientific analysis suggesting 70,000 barrels per day was gushing from the well. On June 15, 2010, the U. S. Government revised its estimate to 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. We now know that crude oil gushing from a broken well on the sea floor is like an iceberg - most is below the surface. BP and the government should have been accurate, open, and forthcoming in their statements.
BP answers to stockholders and to the governments of the jurisdictions in which it operates. The U. S. government's regulatory regime should have been stricter and more comprehensive. While BP might not be expected to go beyond what is mandated by law, it can neither be expected to regulate itself nor act in the interest of anyone but shareholders.
Where do we go from here?
The leak must be closed, future leaks must be prevented, and the oil cleaned up. President Obama ordered a 6 month moratorium on deepwater drilling. A Federal Judge ruled that the administration had failed to justify the need for a blanket moratorium, reinforcing for some the image of the government as big, perhaps incompetent, and unfocused with different branches operating at cross purposes from each other.
Oil is important to the economy at present. However, the earth, the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, the oysters, shrimp, fish, birds, turtles, and dolphins, the cities, towns and bayous from Key West, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana to Cancun, Mexico are more important to the present and the future than an oil field, even one containing one billion barrels.
As this is being written, July 8, 2010, oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and hitting the beaches, marshes, and bayous from Louisiana to Florida, since April 20, 2010. Using the government's current estimate, we are looking at 3.6 to 5 million barrels of oil. This must be stopped, and the oil must be cleaned up.
Christopher Brownfield, U. S. Navy, Retired, has called for President Obama to order the U. S. Navy to close the well with any tools in their arsenal, including conventional, non-nuclear weapons. Under the best case, Brownfield says, "this would stop the leak and enable subsequent drilling into the oil-field.”
This catastrophic event, coming as it does on the heels of the tragic accident at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, and the Dec. 22, 2008 flood of 1.2 billion gallons of coal ash from the Kingston Steam Plant in Tennessee, underscores the need to shift the paradigm from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable, sustainable energy; to move, as BP used to say, "beyond petroleum [and fossil fuel]."
The government and BP, via BP Solar, should announce at least one new photovoltaic solar module factory and distribution center. This should be developed in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, or Texas. This would stimulate the clean energy industry, help the economy, partially offset the jobs lost, and jump-start this paradigm shift to clean, renewable, sustainable energy. A 10 to 50 kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system should be installed - at cost - on every public school and government building in the region, and the country. This would also change BP and the government from poster children for corporate irresponsibility and incompetence to partners in 21 Century Energy; one a model corporate citizen, the other, in Lincoln's words, "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people."
The author has over 25 years experience in the technology and financial sectors and the defense and intelligence communities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This includes 12 years developing and implementing systems to prevent or recover from disasters - so accidents don't develop into crises. One such system, for a law firm based in New York City, was used to resume operations on September 12, 2001, with no loss of data, despite the closure of their headquarters due to the attack of September 11. He is currently studying for an MBA in “Managing for Sustainability” at the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro, Vermont, with graduation expected in December, 2010. In addition, he writes on energy, the economy, and the environment for Popular Logistics, and manages the technology infrastructure for a mid-sized law firm based in New York City.