Another View From The Gulf of Mexico
- From: The PHANTOM <hoofhearted07@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 2 Jul 2010 17:34:08 -0700 (PDT)
Another view from the Gulf of Mexico
By Michael H. Towle
Posted: 06/17/2010 07:52:18 PM PDT
By Michael H. Towle
Tonight, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric opened with the same
story it has nearly every night for the past seven weeks: Disaster in
The Gulf: Day (insert number here). The blonde teleprompter jockey
once again told us of an atrocious ecological disaster that is the oil
spill caused by the explosion and foundering of the semi-submersible
Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
One at a time, Ms. Couric called on four different reporters "in the
field" who show stock footage of oiled birds and wetlands while
talking about the shrimp fishermen whose livelihoods have been ruined
by "BP's oil." She wrapped up the segment by showing a statistic that
claimed 82 percent of Americans do not approve of BP's handing of the
spill response. Another statistic showed that a portion of Americans
believe BP is doing such an awful job that their assets should be
seized by the federal government. Really?
The truth is that BP is doing an incredible job in responding to the
Let's start with a little background: BP is one of the largest oil
companies in the world, with assets stretching from Iraq to Los
Angeles and London to Singapore. That last tank of ARCO gas you put in
your SUV - Basra sour crude transported on a BP tanker.
Among the many segments of BP's business is drilling in the deep water
of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf contains massive oil and natural gas
reserves. As the shallow water,known as the shelf, has been
explored and exploited over the years and as drilling technology has
advanced, drilling has been gradually progressing over the edge of the
shelf and into deeper and deeper water. Today, the large oil companies
are all engaged in deepwater and ultra-deepwater drilling and
production in depths sometimes more than a mile deep.
Any drilling on land or within three miles of shore is covered by laws
in the state where said drilling occurs; outside of three miles the
federal government takes over. Offshore drilling is regulated by the
Mineral Management Service, which falls under the Department of
Interior. The media has reported that there are many federal employees
within the MMS who were former oil company employees, and allegations
of conflicts of interest have arisen. There is a good reason for the
MMS to hire former platform operators: where else are you going to
find inspectors who have the specialized technical knowledge of these
MMS inspections are regular, thorough and, many times, random. The MMS
helicopter will just show up and land on the platform. Like every
other operator in the field, BP was operating under MMS guidelines and
supervision, and with an MMS approved drilling plan. While the
president is stamping his fist demanding a criminal investigation, the
truth is that unless there was a yet unknown serious cover-up (such as
a falsified blowout preventer test) there is nothing criminal here.
Did BP cut corners with the stabilizers, blowout preventers or mud?
Maybe. Are these things covered under the Code of Federal Regulations?
No. Remember, BP was drilling with the federal government's blessing.
As much as the government and media would like to vilify BP, this
appears to be nothing more than a simple gas blowout beyond what the
blowout preventer could handle.
The initial explosion occurred at approximately 10:30 p.m. on April
20. By 1:30 a.m. on April 21, the first 210-foot offshore recovery
vessel was dispatched. The Louisiana Responder sailed from fleet in
the lower Mississippi River and was at Deepwater Horizon shortly after
sunrise. Could the government respond that quickly with a vessel
specifically designed for the "just this job"? As Deepwater Horizon
continued to burn, more offshore recovery vessels, known as "Big
Blues," were dispatched from Texas, Florida, Virginia and even Maine.
There are now some 10 recovery vessels offshore, skimming, capturing,
decanting and off-loading some 4,000 barrels of Louisiana sweet crude
per boat each day.
Even before Deepwater Horizon sunk and the release of crude began, BP
put its incident command system in place and began the response
process. This is not something that BP is making up as they go. This
is a very specific plan, reviewed and approved by the federal
government, that every oil company is required to have in place.
Assets began flowing to the Gulf from all over the country. A central
command center was established, local staging areas were set up,
communication suites were brought in and outside companies already on
contract were deployed. Nearly overnight, staging areas were set up
across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
I am a marine spill response captain dispatched to the spill. Our
staging area in Venice, La., is complete with a man camp housing
several hundred of the 650 men stationed here and an air-conditioned
dining tent, serving a hot breakfast and dinner and making boxed
lunches to take into the field. A laundry service was even brought in
where the workers can have their laundry fluffed and folded for free.
An empty warehouse was procured and quickly began to fill with
everything imaginable that could be needed; stacks of personal
protective equipment, absorbent boom, oil wicking pads, cleaning
supplies, compressors, pumps, outboard engines, ice chests, tools,
life jackets, boots in every size, even sunscreen and bug repellant. A
nearby aviation facility was procured for rotary-wing aircraft. Boats,
ships, trucks, yard equipment and aircraft began moving in, along with
the personnel to operate and support the equipment.
Containment booms began pouring in from all over the country. Within
days, thousands and thousands of feet of boom was set up in southern
Louisiana. Twice-daily helicopter flyovers look for oil and damaged or
missing boom. Task forces are assigned to set, inspect and maintain
the booms. By early June there was over 1.5 million feet of
containment boom protecting the coast.
There are task forces assigned to beach and wetland cleanup. These men
are working 12-hour days seven days a week in the hot, humid swamps
while wearing stifling-hot Tyvek suits. BP is making sure that they
have ice water within arm's reach, a medic standing by and a safety
man taking constant air-quality readings at each job site. Anything
these workers need is made immediately available to them.
BP has been able to muster an army of some 24,000 workers from
hundreds of contractors around the world and put them to work while
also providing food, shelter, clothing, protective equipment,
transportation and every kind of logistical support you can imagine.
The government's response
The National Guard who stand around the staging area in the shade and
eat BP's food. I have not seen one Guardsman put on any personal
protective equipment or even lift a finger.
The Evening News also reports how devastating this disaster is on the
local economy. The same story is run nightly with a different business
owner each day lamenting the loss of thousands of dollars of revenue.
While this is probably true, and definitely sad, there is another side
that the media has failed to show you.
Try to book a hotel room south of New Orleans right now. Try to find a
vacancy sign in front of a hotel. Nearly every hotel within reach of
the oil is completely booked "until further notice," as the Coast
Guard, contractors and media have all booked large blocks. Try getting
your waitress's attention to order another round of drinks with
dinner. The poor girl has been in the weeds since you walked into the
restaurant. Most restaurants are full every night with workers,
military and press. The local helicopter companies, boom manufacturing
and distribution companies, bars, restaurants, hotels, rental car
companies, gas stations, fuel docks, catering companies, crew and
supply boat operators, and even ladies of the night are all working at
full capacity. Many of the 24,000 people responding to the spill are
new hires, and many are from the local parishes affected.
So while the president is accepting responsibility for this spill, he
should also be able to claim the new jobs he created. BP has also
hired nearly every shrimp boat in the area to tow boom. So while they
are not fishing, the shrimpers are still out making money. It should
be noted that while this huge influx of cash and people is great for
many of the local businesses, not everyone is getting a piece of the
action, and the long-term effects are unknown.
There has been much talk in the media about BP not paying claims or
paying very small amounts. As I am out in the field I have very little
exposure to this and am not in the best position to comment. I will
point out, however, that BP is an oil company, not an insurance
company. They are not set up to process and pay a large number of
claims. It would be like asking Geico to start sending containment
boom down. Could they do it? Maybe. Quickly? No.
Two months ago BP probably didn't have a claims department, and if
they did it was probably pretty small and not structured to handle a
situation like this. CBS reports that over 1,000 claims adjusters have
been hired. BP has been surprisingly nimble for an enormous
international company that is fighting a four-front war against this
spill. I have no doubt that this claims process will streamline itself
out and claims will be paid.
The Evening News has also aired several stories featuring interviews
of people complaining that there is no leadership and no command
structure. This is as far from the truth as anything Katie Couric has
said all week. There is a very specific structure, as laid out in BP's
incident command system. BP (like all large oil companies) had such a
system in place long before the incident, as required by law. It
includes a command chain that begins with the national incident
commander, in this case Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, and continues all
the way down to the foremen in the field. This system includes
planning, operations, logistics and finance. BP filled the command
structure and began deploying assets within hours of the explosion on
Deepwater Horizon and long before any oil reached the surface.
BP has done an incredible job mobilizing and supporting the largest
spill response force in history to contain and clean the spill, while
at the same time using technology that no one else in the world
possesses to try to stop to flow of oil. Do you honestly believe that
the federal government could create and implement a command structure
and fill it with the right people? Could the government hire, train,
equip and support a work force the size of a World War II infantry
division and mobilize it as quickly as BP? Could the feds find better
engineers and develop newer technology than BP already has working to
stop the flow of oil?
This spill is an environmental disaster of epic proportions. Offshore
oil exploration and exploitation will never be the same. BP will end
up spending billions of dollars, but I suspect it should be able to
weather the storm.
BP has already spent more than a billion dollars on the response and
is continuing to work feverishly on containment, cleanup and securing
of the well. The American people are eating what the media is feeding
them, which right now is a vilified large corporation.
BP has stepped forward, admitted culpability and initiated a response
like never before seen. To think that your government could do a
better job managing the response to this incident is completely
Michael H. Towle is a Rancho Palos Verdes resident and marine spill
response captain dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico. These are his
reflections on how BP has responded to the spill, the government's
role in the cleanup and media coverage of the disaster.
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