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The smoking gun on BP 2010-May-27 at 01:10 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Oil Well Before Blast, by Ian Urbina, 26-May-2010

Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.

The concern with the method BP chose, the document said, was that if the cement around the casing pipe did not seal properly, gases could leak all the way to the wellhead, where only a single seal would serve as a barrier.

Workers from the rig and company officials have said that hours before the explosion, gases were leaking through the cement, which had been set in place by the oil services contractor, Halliburton. Investigators have said these leaks were the likely cause of the explosion.

I try not to get too involved in the details of any of these big, horrible examples of Corporations Behaving Badly, because… well, I know.  I know they’re going to do it.  I know that some corporate cultures encourage it more than others.  I know that it’s inevitable, almost without regard for the developmental center-of-gravity of the company.  I just think that they’re the exceptions, not the rules.

And then you get an incident like this.  Simply put, the worst ecological disaster in the history of the United States.

It’s just such a punch in the gut, when you really let it sink in.  The worst ecological disaster, ever, and it happened on our watch.

We thought we were past this kind of thing.  We thought something of this magnitude would never happen now… that it was something from grainy video of the 1980’s, not from our world.

So now we’re seeing some of the problems that crop up when we let Orange/Achiever run amok, deregulated and even unregulated, in our financial systems, and our energy systems… and our food systems….

And the natural move over the coming years will be for more regulation, and Orange/Achiever will scream bloody murder the entire way, but we have to support Green/Individualist policies – shaving off the rougher edges – but moving us beyond the Orange/Achiever worldview into something that wishes to give a value to things not quantifiable.

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In the meantime… this is the outline of the case against BP, and it’s fairly damning.  I know it’s painful to dig into the details, but if you want to read just one article to explain quickly and succinctly what led up to the explosion of the oil rig, and at the same time allowed the automatic cut-off systems to fail, this is the one.

Jesus, it’s bad.  Let me just say, as someone who has spent a bit of time thinking about mission-critical systems, that this entire scenario is an unimaginable failure of risk planning and mitigation strategies for something that can’t ever, ever, ever fail.

Once it had failed, I do think that BP did everything it could think of doing to fix it, with no success thus far.

But once it had failed, it was too late.  There was no amount of cost savings on an individual well that would be worth the incalculable risk of complete system failure, and BP, through its culture, showed that it didn’t understand that simple fact… and therefore didn’t live up to its responsibility as a global corporation.

What kind of international legal treatment does a company that just screwed up this badly, this systematically, deserve?  What kind of legal responsibility do the Chairman and CEO have?  Is this the first international “death sentence” for a company we somehow hand down?

No, of course not – the Europeans don’t do capital punishment, right? – but the name “BP” is, for several generations, going to be associated first and foremost with an ecological disaster so awful it replaces the Exxon Valdez as the canonical example of one.

And in the meantime, this is going to be a very difficult time to be working at BP.  For years.  And whatever it has coming to it, from every legal system on Earth, it deserves.  But it’ll survive.

Until solar.

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