American Elephants

“Hope” Is Not a Recipe For Success. Try Common Sense and Hard Work! by The Elephant's Child

President Obama’s “green jobs” program promised to weatherize 1,000,000 homes each year. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy in February 2010, issued two conclusions: Out of the $4.73 billion that the stimulus bill provided for weatherization work, only $368.2 million had actually been spent. (Less than 8 percent). Of the 10 highest grant recipients, only two had completed more than two percent of the planned units.

The weatherization program was supposed to be the quickest and most effective of job-creation programs, but to quote the report: “The Nation has not, to date, realized the potential economic benefits of the $5 billion in Recovery Act funds allocated to the Weatherization Program.” Why not?

A Depression-era law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, meant that recipients of weatherization funds had to pay laborers a locally “prevailing wage.” States and counties didn’t actually know what the prevailing wage was. Most chose not to begin projects until wage rates were formally established. California had “furloughs.” The Energy Dept. mandated that all workers receive additional training — budget shortfalls and “furloughs.”

Idled oil-rig workers in the Gulf who are receiving compensatory benefits from BP aren’t going to get any relief from the IRS.  Their benefits will be fully taxable, the IRS wants their share of that $20 billion fund demanded by the federal government to help spill victims.

Eight of the deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have either left, or are finalizing their plans to do so.  The administration apparently thought that they would sit around idle for six months.  There is an economic disaster to accompany the ecological disaster.  Some 16 shallow-water rigs are sitting idle, and in 30 days that total will grow to 34 rigs.  Approximately 50 offshore marine service and supply vessels are already out of work and that number is expected to grow to 100 shortly.  Louisiana’s shipbuilding industry is bracing for a potentially devastating drop in new business and likely cancellation of existing contracts.

With the overhaul of financial regulation nearing completion, some Democrats are hoping that Congress can turn to the next big legislative challenge – energy and climate change. There is no consensus yet what such legislation should include, but there is strong determination on the part of the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to try to move something – anything – before Congress leaves town in August. Um — anything?

These are just a few examples of the mindset.  They must do something! They will make a law, turn out a regulation, mandate — something or other. Because there has been no careful investigation of what is actually needed, no consideration of possible unintended consequences, things simply do not work.

Efforts to salvage things in the Gulf are hamstrung by red tape issued by bureaucrats who know less than nothing about the problems.  Priorities are misplaced, expertise ignored, ideas discarded, common sense and simple straightforward economics are left out of the equation.

Maybe BP *SHOULD* Listen to James Cameron by American Elephant

People forget that in addition to Avatar and Titanic, Cameron also directed (warning: f-bomb ahead)…

..which is, after all, as reader Mookie reminds us, more or less how the Russians stopped their spills in the past…. “Only way to be sure.”

But something tells me the director of The Smurfs’ Adventures in Fern Gully didn’t have nukes in mind. And BP pretty much laughed him off anyway. Pity.

When Obama Hit The Panic Button: by The Elephant's Child

The Energy Tribune has an article by Geoffrey Styles, titled “The Panic Button.” The President’s decision to halt 33 exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf  of Mexico will compound the economic damage to a Gulf Coast already reeling from the impact of the spill.

I suppose it was inevitable that we would arrive at the moment in the ongoing oil spill crisis at which the baby would be thrown out with the bath. That moment came at about 7 minutes into President Obama’s press conference on the spill Thursday, May 27. After announcing the suspension of offshore drilling in Alaska, the cancellation of planned lease sales for the Gulf of Mexico and Virginia, and the extension for six months of his administration’s moratorium on new drilling permits for deepwater wells, he ordered a halt to 33 exploration wells currently being drilled in the Gulf, excluding the two relief wells for the leaking Macondo prospect. Everything up until that point could be considered as reasonable, prudent, and expected responses by an administration faced with an unprecedented and still-unfolding environmental and economic disaster. But while stopping work on the 33 projects already underway might look like prudence to some, it could ultimately have economic consequences rivaling those of the spill.

Never hurts to get a little sensible response.

More on The Deepwater Horizon Disaster by The Elephant's Child

If you are interested in and are following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster,  there is a very interesting piece at Watts Up With That, Anthony Watts splendid blog.  The article is by Paul Driessen, and there is, as well, a transcript of a call from a worker who was on the rig when it blew.   Comments on Watts’ articles are always worthwhile for many come from knowledgeable people who add to the very sane discussion.

An accident — even a very big one — is no reason to shut down operations on other offshore oil rigs.  This spill does not begin to reach the volume of some tanker spills.

The safety record of oil rigs is really quite good.  As Driessen says: “Since 1969, we have drilled over 1.224,000 wells in state waters and on the Outer Continental Shelf.  There have been 13 losses of well control involving more than 50 barrels; five were less than 100 barrels apiece; one was a little over 1,000 barrels; two (both in 1970) involved 30,000 barrels or more.  Only in Santa Barbara (so far) did significant amounts of oil reach shore and cause serious environmental damage.

I hope this whets your appetite for the article.  The media is full of catastrophe, and hype.  Lots of grandstanding and kneejerk reactions.  Politicians want to be seen as “doing something.” Yet it is too soon to know the exact cause,  too soon to know if there were human mistakes or if this is a trick of Mother Nature.  A  Congress that is already in bad favor with constituents will want to rush to make some laws to prevent…?

The Struggle to Maintain an Aura of Calm and Competence. by The Elephant's Child

The federal bureaucrats in charge of regulating BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil rigs  badly underestimated the potential damage and size of a serious oil spill. NRO’s Daniel Foster points out:

The Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

This doesn’t mean too much, simply that neither the MMS nor BP expected an industrial accident of this size and scale, nor did they expect an accident at all.  Drilling for oil is a hazardous business.  There is risk involved.  And there are limits to what regulations can accomplish.

There has been a  plan in place since 1994 that required the federal government to have pre-placement of booms to contain controlled burns of surface oil.  The booms weren’t there, and the plan had been ignored.  Equipment can fail, humans are fallible, mistakes are made, the unexpected happens — that’s what happens in the real world.  We try to prepare, but stuff happens.  The Assistant Secretary of the Interior who was supposedly in charge was white-water rafting on the Colorado River.

The President, however, was stung by suggestions that he was nine days late and inattentive when the spill happened.  The White House has put up a detailed (my goodness is it detailed) timeline, moment by moment, of the administration’s calm and competent response to the disaster.  Apparently the industry experts who have been working night and day had little to do with it — except to get the blame.

At the White House website you will find an extensive timeline of “The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill.” You will also find a piece indicating that the administration was on the ground in Nashville “before the raindrops started falling.”

Nobody has explained how the FBI lost Faisal Shahzad long enough for him to get on an airline bound for Dubai when he was on a “no fly list” and had been under observation since the Clinton administration as a person of interest, yet he was able to travel back and forth to Pakistan frequently.

The Washington Post has a long article on “naming disasters”and the critical importance of the name both as a historic matter and in the “more immediate matters of image, public relations and legal liability.”

What do you call a gigantic man-made disaster that is threatening to despoil the ecosystems and wreck the economies of the Gulf Coast? The answer is important, if you happen to be one of the companies responsible for it.

The media had referred to it as “the Gulf oil spill,” “the Deepwater Horizon spill” and the “Gulf Coast disaster.” President Obama “put a brand name on it in remarks in Louisiana on Sunday”  The President dubbed it “the BP oil spill” after the company that leased the now-sunken drilling platform.

This is perhaps what the President means by ” keeping a boot on the neck of BP.” Which is an unfortunate phrase and should have no place in White House communications.  BP acknowledged responsibility long before the  “boot” comment. Presidents of the United States should not plant boots on anyone’s neck.  The phrase is from Orwell.

What I am getting at in all of this, is not to place blame.  The world is a dangerous place, and things happen.  Those who are certain that more regulation, more agencies, more mandates, more rules — will compensate for dangerous nature, fallible humanity, failed equipment and natural disasters — are mistaken.

The more bureaucracy grows — the more error: the more rules — the fewer are obeyed.  More regulation breeds a disrespect for law, and those who were so sure that wise, benevolent people in charge, changing society to make it better — end up unable to keep the lights on in Venezuela, unable to feed their own people in North Korea,  with a society of alcoholics who have given up having children in Russia,  and with the very best of intentions creating trillions of dollars of debt in America.

The wise folks in Washington are always sure that they know better,  that their ideas are new and fresh, and a glorious future lies ahead. They don’t. They aren’t, and it doesn’t.  Big government is to be opposed not because it is a popular slogan in some quarters,  but because it simply doesn’t work.  It has been tested over and over, and it never, never works.

The American people don’t need or want everything remade, reformed and reorganized for them.  They want truth and transparency.  They have a lot of good old-fashioned common sense and they know — most of the time — when they’re being told the truth, and when they’re not.  Collectively, they have a lot of wisdom too. They deserve the respect and the attention of those in government.

Taking Credit for the Actions of Others Does Not Demonstrate “Cool Competence.” by The Elephant's Child

Politico reports that the “White House is in a P.R. ‘panic’ over spill.” See the video accompanying the Politico article.

The ferocious oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening President Barack Obama’s reputation for competence, just as surely as it endangers the Gulf ecosystem.

Once again, it’s all about him.  “Hope and change,” Politico says, “was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats.  The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.”  Talk about spin!

“Have the reporters not noticed” asks Jennifer Rubin, “that those bigger and  bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic,…is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public…but instead of the obsession of this administration …with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces.”

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

No one thinks the administration is responsible for the spill or the explosion.  They are only responsible for preparedness.  Other than burning the oil on the surface, there’s not much the government can do, but though there was a plan, there were no booms. All of the action and efforts to control the disaster fall on the experts from the industry.  They have the equipment and the expertise. But Obama here does what he has often done before. He simply moves in and takes credit for what others have done. He was right on top of it “from Day One.”

The Washington Post calls it a “challenge of message management.”  After saying that the President (9 days later) had no plans to go to Louisiana, the President sent off Admiral Mullen, Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Salazar, Director Lisa Jackson of the EPA, Obama’s Assistant for Energy and Climate, and the Administrator of NOAA,  whose name escapes me.  All of whom repeated at every opportunity “from Day One.” And a fat lot of good six additional politicians will do.

The big deal, unfortunately is not the missing and dead oil rig workers, nor the potential damage to the Louisiana gulf coast, but, as the Washington Post says: “handled right, these two crises (the failed bombing) have the potential to restore an increasingly skeptical public’s faith in Obama… Bungled, either or both could go down as his administration’s Hurricane Katrina.”

The offshore oil rigs are in the jurisdiction of the federal government.  The Gulf Coast, deluged by Hurricane Katrina, was under the legal jurisdiction of the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Let’s try not to play politics with disasters, but just be helpful and, um, honest.

Was This an Adequate Response to the Deepwater Horizon Catastrtophe? by The Elephant's Child
May 2, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Energy, Environment, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

Administration officials have made the rounds of news-talk shows today to tell everyone how quickly they have responded to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace quizzed Janet Napolitano:

WALLACE: A number of Louisiana officials are saying that the Obama administration was slow to respond to this crisis. And I want to review the timeline of what has happened here. On April 20th, the explosion of the drilling platform. For days, BP and the Coast Guard say there is no leak. On April 24th, we’re told it’s leaking 1,000 barrels a day. On April 28th, the estimate is raised to 5,000 barrels a day. It’s not until April 29th, nine days after the accident, that the president makes his first statement about what is now called an incident of national significance.
Secretary Napolitano, should the administration have responded faster?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, the administration responded with all hands on deck from day one. What happened is the situation itself evolved. The situation evolved from an explosion and a search-and-rescue mission to several days later the actual sinking of the rig. At that point in time, the oil was being burned off on the surface. To the next phase, was that the oil began to spread, and could not all and was not all being burned off on the surface. And then we had assets in place, already pre-deployed, more than 70 vessels, hundreds of thousands of feet of boom. The command center, the integrated command center the commandant referred to was already stood up, with the states involved from day one, I might say.

Uh huh.  Doug Ross”s timeline tells a slightly different story, and for 9 days, the administration seems uninterested.  On the 29th of April, we get pictures of a finally involved White House.  On the 30th, Secretary of Defense Gates mobilizes the Louisiana National Guard, and the White House convenes a “principal-level homeland security response meeting, and President Obama plans to visit the catastrophe zone off Louisiana’s coast within the next 48 hours.

Awkward coverup, inadequate response.  Adding a car bomb in Times Square is another big deal.  Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility, but what that means nobody knows at present. New York police performed admirably.  These events are not the administrations fault.  How the administration reacts is.  Those reactions are carefully observed by governments all over the world,  and judged.  That’s just the way it is.

Former Spill Coordinator Blasts Federal Response! by The Elephant's Child

Federal officials should have started burning oil off the surface of the gulf last week, almost as soon as the spill happened, according to the former spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Ron Gouget, who also had experience as manager of Louisiana’s oil response team for a time, said that federal officials missed a narrow window of opportunity to gain control of the spill by burning  last week, before the spill spread hundreds of miles across the Gulf, and before winds began blowing toward shore.

Gouget was part of the group that created the 1994 plan that was designed to allow federal responders to take immediate action when a major spill occurred, without waiting for an elaborate approval process.  He said:

They had pre-approval.  The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away instead of waiting ten days to get permission. If you read the pre-approval plan, it speaks about Grand Isle, where the spill is.  When the wind in blowing offshore out of the north, you have pre-approval to burn in that region.  If the wind is coming onshore, like it is now, you can’t burn at Grand Isle.  They waited to do the test burn until the wind started coming onshore.

Gouget added that the NOAA officials involved at the Unified Command Center in Louisiana know how to respond to spills, and know burning should have started as soon as possible after the initial release was detected.  Gouget said they may have been overruled:

It may have been a political issue.  The burn would make a big, big plume and lots of soot.  Like Valdez, the decisions to get the resources mobilized may not have occurred until it was too late.  This whole thing has been a strip tease.  At first it was just the diesel, then they said the well wasn’t leaking.  It’s unfortunate they didn’t get the burning going right away.  They could have gotten 90 percent of the oil before it spread.

Doug Ross has an illustrated timeline of “Obama’s Katrina.” Don’t miss it!  This is going to be a huge disaster. Dispersal agents were used when they should not have been

President Obama finally visited today, and announced that BP was going to have to pay for the cleanup.   Actually, the president of British Petroleum announced that they would be paying for the cleanup last week, so that isn’t news either.

Work on oil rigs is dangerous, and there are many risks.  Eleven lives were lost in this disaster.  The media seems disinclined to get interested until there are threats to birds and otters.  Oil-soaked wildlife always makes for dramatic pictures.

It is disheartening to find a disaster made worse by federal inaction when there are clear guidelines.

More on the Deepwater Horizon Disaster: by The Elephant's Child
April 30, 2010, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Energy, Environment, Politics | Tags: , ,

A process called cementing is being scrutinized as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater  Horizon oil rig  in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling experts said Thursday.  The procedure is supposed to keep oil and natural gas from escaping, by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor.

Cement is pumped down the well from the drilling rig.  It is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned, or when drilling is finished and production hasn’t yet begun. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement, and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement.  It isn’t known if they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

“The initial likely cause of gas coming to the surface had something to do with the cement,” said Robert MacKenzie, managing director of energy and natural resources at FBR Capital Markets and a former cementing engineer in the oil industry.

Several other drilling experts agreed, though they cautioned that the investigation into what went wrong at the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its preliminary stages.

The problem could have been a faulty cement plug at the bottom of the well, he said. Another possibility would be that cement between the pipe and well walls didn’t harden properly and allowed gas to pass through it.

A 2007 study by three U.S. Minerals Management Service officials found that cementing was a factor in 18 of 39 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period. That was the single largest factor, ahead of equipment failure and pipe failure.

The spill volume will probably be much less than the massive spill from the infamous Exxon Valdez, but the Exxon Valdez oil was all spilled in Prince William Sound, and thus somewhat contained, and the sound had rocky beaches that could be steam cleaned.  The oil headed into the Louisiana marshes can’t be contained in the same way. The Exxon Valdez spill happened on the surface.  This is bubbling up from leaks 5,000 feet down, and once on the surface, can drift.  Apparently BP’s safety record isn’t so good, and lots of litigation can be expected.

Robert Bryce said that he left out of his piece on the risks of offshore drilling what is probably the biggest risk:  the public relations risk.  What is bad for the oil and gas industry will be good for the corn ethanol and wind industry.  On Wednesday, President Obama was in an ethanol plant in Missouri, singing the praises of ethanol:

I may be the President these days, but I want to remind everybody I was the senator from Illinois. I didn’t just discover the merits of biofuels like ethanol when I first hopped on the campaign bus. I was telling Steve this was not the first ethanol plant I visited. And I believe in the potential of what you’re doing right here to contribute to our clean energy future, but also to our rural economies.

Robert Bryce suggests that the Obama administration will soon approve a bailout for the ethanol industry in which the EPA will remove the “blend wall” which will raise the amount of ethanol in US gasoline from 10% to 15%, an amount that supposedly will damage most car engines.  Only 3% of the automotive fleet have flex-fuel engines.  The Energy Tribune says:

Corn ethanol is the biggest scam to hit America since the days of Charles Ponzi. Making subsidized motor fuel out of the most subsidized crop in America borders on fiscal insanity. No matter how you slice it, corn ethanol cannot provide enough fuel to displace imported oil. In 2005, U.S. farmers produced about 11.1 billion bushels of corn. If the U.S. turned all of its corn into ethanol, it would only supply about 6 percent of America’s total annual oil needs.

ADDENDUM: ExxonMobil is sending equipment and experts to help with cleanup efforts in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The company has offered a drilling rig as a staging base, two supply vessels, and underwater vehicle and support vessel.

Exxon has sent experts to respond to BPs request for technical advice about blowout preventers, dispersant injection, well construction and containment options, the company said in a statement.  Nice move, when the crisis is such a public relations disaster for the oil industry.

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