Disaster Plans That Don't Bother to Anticipate Disaster
It’s been a week now since Pressure grows for action by BP was reported by Steve Mufson and Mike Shear of the Washington Post. A week of too little too late
The BP of interest is British Petroleum, the guys who brought you an Exxon Valdez redux, this time on the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is actually a more serious matter environmentally because, as its name would imply, it’s pretty much a closed bowl, a super-sized teacup.
Additionally to that (and certainly not through any fault of BP) the Gulf fishery is already seriously threatened, due to agricultural runoff. Currently, the area over which the fishery is essentially dead covers some 8,500 square miles. Poor old, beautiful and historic New Orleans. Down to a single Fortune 500 company headquarters as the Mississippi shipping moved north, victim of an entire coastal way of life gone dead, then Hurricane Katrina and now an oil spill disaster.
According to Mufson and Shear;
BP's own exploration plan, submitted to federal regulators in February 2009, minimized the danger of a spill. The company said "it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill release would occur from the proposed activities." While it acknowledged that a spill could "cause impacts to wetlands" and to beaches, it added that "due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected." It said any effects on fish or shellfish would be "sub-lethal."
Yup. And now the ‘response capabilities’ are not sufficiently responsive. Surprise, surprise.
Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said in an interview Friday that the company's plans for responding to oil spills did not address the complete failure of equipment on the seafloor designed to prevent a blowout of the sort that took place on the massive drilling rig.
"We're breaking new ground here. It's hard to write a plan for a catastrophic event that has no precedent, which is what this was," Allen said, defending the company against not writing a response for "what could never be in a plan, what you couldn't anticipate."
Hogwash. If BP can design a plan, they can anticipate complete failure of installed equipment. That’s what a plan is. That’s how a plan differs from a pipe dream. The BP drilling platform hovered a full mile above the sea floor into which it was drilling. It was (before it blew up) a floating rig, turning a mile of drill pipe before it ever hit its target. We don’t have centuries of drilling history upon which to estimate possibilities . . . offshore drilling is a relatively new technology.
Now, the Department of Interior is lining up to cover its backside as well.
Hammond Eve, who did environmental impact studies of offshore drilling for the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, said the federal agency never planned for response to an oil spill of this size. "We never imagined that it would happen because the safety measures were supposed to work and prevent it from happening," he said.
He added that the MMS began from the "premise that if something like this happened, that it would be shut down fairly soon and a discrete amount of oil would be released and these cleanup measures would begin and you would never end up with a situation like this."
They began with a faulty and ridiculous premise, and then failed to plan for a possibility below that premise.
Seems to me I’ve heard this one before. Wall Street built a derivative investment scheme that was so wildly profitable that they turned a blind eye to the possibility that housing prices might just fall. That over exuberance (Alan Greenspan’s definition) damned near sunk the planet economically and may yet do so.
If BP were an individual, it would be in deeper water than the length of its drilling pipe. But BP, like all corporations, chooses corporate limited liability when it serves them and corporate ‘personhood’ when that choice is appealing. You and I are not offered that choice when we kill someone or overwhelm the environment. We cannot ruin someone economically or foul their living space without the force of law coming down on our individual necks.
Corporations can and do. Our Supreme Court supports them in this, even though a main author of our vaunted Constitution warned against it. Experienced as he was in corporate colonialism from the then British corporations, chartered by the crown to do business in North America, Thomas Jefferson wrote;
I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
We have not done so.
Perhaps we will. Perhaps, with the egregious bulldozing of a once thriving economy, the off-shoring of every job that could be sent elsewhere, the continued environmental destruction and the yet to be reckoned-with loosened purse strings of corporate political support, we will yet come to our sense and find truth in Jefferson’s warnings and rein in the foolishness of corporate personhood.
But, at the very least, we can reject the chimera of disaster plans that profitably and conveniently turn their backs on the possibility of things gone wrong when it serves the corporate profit to do so.