Monday, May 24, 2010

Oil Drilling Ain’t Rocket Science

“Houston, we have a problem . . .” fateful words in the world of real rocket science. Happily, a combination of real rocket scientists and engineers at Houston and onboard the space ship functioned to produce a positive outcome. So, what’s the difference between space science and oil drilling? One word, apparently—technical competence. In the world of space science, we have been blessed by high levels of technical competence within the private space companies that make the equipment allowing us to go into space safely, and Federal Government engineers and scientists at NASA, who know what to do when we get there. These engineers and scientists play out the “what-if” games before bad things happen, so that when they happen, the scientists and engineers know what to do to effect real solutions. Sometimes, even with these competent people in charge, awful things happen, as in the explosion of one vehicle, and the disastrous re-entry of another. Still, given the harsh conditions found in space, and the harsh realities to be overcome in physically getting there, the space guys fare well.

So, what have we in the oil industry? Gamblers. They’re apparently closer to the investment bankers who brought down the world economy, than they are to space scientists and engineers. They know how to do a few things pretty well—like drill deep holes, even under extreme conditions, like 5,000 feet under the water. But, they seem not to have learned or understood Murphy’s Law—if things can go wrong, they will go wrong, at the worst possible time. As a result, our oily executives balance drilling investments against returns on the dollar, and have demonstrated to all of us that they are perfectly willing to gamble on using lower cost technology, even if it is less effective technology.

But they are also demonstrating something we don’t like to think about. They are basically incompetent, once things do go wrong. The BP response should have shocked the world by now. Their “fixes” do not resemble NASA’s fixes, i.e., BP’s simply don’t work, and often resemble something a junior high science class might devise (apologies to all junior high science classes). It’s surprising only that BP hasn’t yet tried duct tape to plug the hole.

Given, their slapstick comedy approach to this disaster of their own making, I guess it was inevitable that the public would become disaffected, and turn their attention to what the Government is or is not doing to fix the problem. Everyone is now blasting the Obama government for not immediately coming to the rescue, as they did when the words, “Houston, we have a problem” were uttered. But, guess what, the Government has no equivalent to NASA when it comes to oil. Oil exploration is not, as it turns out, a joint venture like space. No, we merely license the geniuses of BP, Exxon et al, to undertake the whole venture, with, as it turns out, minimal interference from the Feds. Now, when the grand fuck-up occurs, and oil is clogging the coastal environment, killing off wildlife and fouling our beaches and marshlands, everyone suddenly wants the Federal Government to ride in like the cavalry of old to the rescue. But there is no cavalry. The Feds don’t know how to stop the oil—they have no technology. There is no cadre of scientists and engineers standing by ready to wade into the battle. So, asking/demanding that Obama intervene flies in the face of our current reality.

Now, mind you, these demands are coming from the same people who decry Government interference with private interests. I’m sure Sarah, her tea party mindless minions, and the current favorite of morons everywhere, Rand Paul, are screaming the loudest. Except they don’t seem to know which to yell louder—“get the government off our backs", or “why won’t the government stop this oil leak and fix the problem.”

Perhaps, this mess, large and getting larger every day, should inform us that offshore drilling is not for the faint of heart. Perhaps, no more offshore drilling should be permitted by anyone, until we have forged a joint venture, like NASA and the space companies, and until we have the BEST, MOST EFFECTIVE, technology in place to prevent such blowouts, AND, the technology to correct the problem when, not if, another blowout occurs. And if we run out of gasoline before that happens, I suggest that everyone buy a bike.

And on another front, it is rumored that Newt Gingrich, having asserted confidently that President Obama is a worse threat to America than Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin and Mao Tse Tung combined, is now embarked on another book that suggests all liberals and progressives are actually space aliens.
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