Botching the Gulf Spill Investigation

The investigation into the Gulf Oil Spill has become a disarrayed mess. What the public expects would be something along the lines of a National Transportation Safety Board review of the cockpit recorder tapes, followed by a preliminary assessment of likely causes with the airlines ordered to make key inspections of suspect items and the continued operation of the airline industry. Long experience has also taught us that human error is the primary cause of most airline accidents.

What we've gotten so far in the Gulf has been a panicked administration instituting a six month shutdown of offshore drilling, against the recommendation of its own expert committee from the National Academy of Engineering.

In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Terry Barr of Samson Oil and Gas has produced a minute by minute timeline of the accident based on the publicly available data such as that which can be found on the very informative oil industry blog, The Oil Drum . Mr. Barr's conclusions, based on the facts, are that the men controlling the operations on the Deepwater Horizon violated standard oil industry practices and through their human errors lost control of the well causing the blowout.

Mr. Hayward and BP have taken the position that this tragedy is all about a fail-safe blow-out preventer (BOP) failing, but in reality the BOP is really the backup system, and yes we expect that it will work. However, all of the industry practice and construction systems are aimed at ensuring that one never has to use that device. Thus the industry has for decades relied on a dense mud system to keep the hydrocarbons in the reservoir and everything that is done to maintain wellbore integrity is tested, and where a wellbore integrity test fails, remedial action is taken.

This well failed its casing integrity test and nothing was done. The data collected during a critical operation to monitor hydrocarbon inflow was ignored and nothing was done. This spill is about human failure and it is time BP put its hand up and admitted that.

Mr. Barr may be a bit unrealistic to expect BP to admit the human errors of its mid-level employees in the face of the United States Attorney General Eric Holder having publicly announced his witch hunt for generalized criminal behavior without any specific crimes in mind. Even corporate employees have Fifth Amendment rights regarding self-incrimination. Congress and now the President have been fawning over the families of those who died aboard the Deepwater Horizon without a hint that among the survivors and the fallen likely were the very people who made the repeated series of human errors that caused this disaster. Acting in their instinctive manner as lapdogs of the trial bar, they have been salivating at the chance to instigate huge lawsuits aimed at enriching the lawyers by placing blame and unlimited liability upon BP and its contractors. Yet if there is anyone who ought to have their "asses kicked", it is the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, living and dead, who made or acquiesced to dangerous and non-standard operating decisions and who were inattentive to their duties. We don't make a habit of trying to expand the legal options of the survivors of airline pilots whose human errors result in the deaths of their passengers.

Five of the survivors have appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 describing their near-death experience. But as avatars of the politics of victimization, they have been trying to sell a story of how BP cut corners and did unsafe things and how powerless they all were in the face of a threat of firing, when they admit that the official policy was that anyone could "call a timeout for safety", but no one did. Given the emerging details of the weaknesses in the safety of offshore drilling (see Lessons Left Unlearnt from 2003 ), a man who filed a whistleblower suit after being fired for trying to stop unsafe practices would likely be both alive and a millionaire. The solution to improving the safety of offshore drilling will only be found in a return to the values (remember when "values voter" was the political buzzword of the moment?) that made America great; personal responsibility, courage and a freedom of thought and action embodied in "the land of the free and the home of the brave". If you see something dangerous, raise your voice in protest.