Stop whining, take the pain

In the movie Platoon one of the early scenes has a night firefight, where one of the Americans is wounded.  As the wounded man writhes on the ground, moaning, the "bad" Sergeant played by Tom Berringer places his hand over the man's mouth and forcefully instructs him to "take the pain!"

There is considerable whining about the BP oil debacle in the Gulf of Mexico.  Stop whining, take the pain.

Some people, mostly oil industry insiders or supporters, have stated the oil spill is a "black swan" event.  It isn't.  A black swan event is one that is so unusual, unexpected, or unlikely that almost no-one could have foreseen its occurrence.  The BP spill was foreseeable, perhaps even likely.  The exact timing and location of a major uncontrolled blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was not foreseeable, but the probability of one occuring was much more than a remote possibility.  Especially since there had already been one in 1979.

Anyone who has paid even superficial attention to the news through the years should not be surprised that this incident would occur with BP as the operator.  The corporation has a sordid history of violation of safety and environmental standards too lengthy to list, but summarized in this wiki article.

It was widely known that under CEO John Browne for roughly 10 years to 2007 that BP's field operations were starved for cash, particularly the refineries.  His cost cutting was viewed as excessive by employees who often stated they were unable to do necessary inspections and repairs on equipment.  The inevitable result was a series of mishaps including the Texas City refinery explosion (2005), the Prudhoe Bay, AK pipeline spill (2006), and finally this year's Deepwater Horizon blowout.  Tony Hayward also skimped on equipment maintenance after he took the CEO position.

The Texas City explosion killed 15 and injured about 170 others.  I think there were grounds for criminal negligence charges and lengthy jail terms for many people in BP management in that circumstance, but they essentially negotiated their way out of it with minor penalties.  It helps to have friends in high places.  In one book I read that a senior BP official was miffed at having to go to Texas City following the incident because it took a day off his vacation time.  Just like Tony Hayward's comment about wanting his life back.  Good to see these little incidents aren't affecting the corporate culture.

Despite the numerous safety and environmental infractions and warnings, BP has been a darling with investors.  It has been profitable, and in case you haven't noticed, the profitability of corporations ranks higher in the developed nations than almost any other consideration.  We are all complicit in the Gulf of Mexico debacle because we elect governments who cater to the mega-corporations above all else, certainly above the needs and well-being of the citizenry.  The banksters, big oil, health care (especially in the USA), pharmaceutical companies, agribiz, and others set the legislative agenda for most of the developed nations.

Anyone with experience in industrial accidents knows that a major accident is rarely due to one cause alone.  The root, and major contributing causes are often 3 to 7 in number.  I have seen many accidents where if any one of the multiple major causes had  been eliminated, the accident could not have occurred.  

Human error is often present in accidents.  This being widely known, industrial safety systems incorporate safeguards to minimize the possibility of human error alone creating an accident.  That's why industrial sites have lockout-tagout procedures, numerous detailed startup-shutdown checklists, detailed logs of temperatures, pressures, flow rates, etc.  They are all designed to eliminate common causes of accidents and bring attention to anything abnormal.

Industrial safety systems involve documenting incidents, near misses, and accidents.  Here's a simplistic description.  An accident is any event that causes harm to people, equipment, or the environment.  A near miss is an event that almost caused harm to people, equipment, or the environment.  An incident is an event that posed no danger under the circumstances, but could have under other circumstances.  An incident would be a worker dropping a hammer from a scaffold; the hammer lands in an area that creates no danger.  A near miss would be if the hammer landed near someone walking by, or if it could have broken critical equipment, but didn't.  An accident would be if the hammer struck a person, or broke a pipe, thereby releasing chemicals for instance.

For every major accident there are many small accidents, say 10 to 1 for simplification.  For every minor accident there are many near misses, again say 10 to 1.  For every near miss there are many incidents, again say 10 to 1.  So in this case, on average there would be 100 incidents for every minor accident, and 1000 incidents for a major accident.  That's why safety programmes are designed to minimize incidents.  Minimizing incidents drastically cuts down the odds of an accident.

I'm betting that if BP's worksites were subjected to independent safety audits we would find that BP management pays only lip service to eliminating incidents.  They couldn't have such a horrendous record of safety and environmental violations otherwise.

Then there is the corporate ethic.  BP energy traders have been formally charged with market manipulation more than once.  Of course several other oil companies have had the same charges.

So now we have citizens along the Gulf of Mexico whining about the environment, and especially a potential or actual loss of income.  I haven't noticed them complaining a whole lot about the aquatic dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi due to fertilizer run-off, so I suspect their anger is weighted more to income loss than the environment.  Like people anywhere they like the economic benefits of industrial activity, but are unwilling to accept the adverse consequences.  Stop whining, take the pain.

There is also considerable consternation about the red tape and confusion about who is in charge of what with respect to spill containment and cleanup.  To an outsider, it appears to be a typical American clusterf**k.  American mainstream media reports have been typically superficial, characterized by ignorance of the topics being reported, lack of in-depth research and investigation, and heavy reliance on sensationalism; why should they treat this issue differently than any other?  Rolling Stone magazine and Jon Stewart offer more useful analysis than any of the five corporate-owned network news groups.

The oil companies' emergency response plans are clearly inadequate ("Mickey Mouse" would be the appropriate technical term).  The federal government appears to have been negligent, if not grossly negligent, in carrying out its regulatory duties with respect to drilling.  But this was all known and documented long ago; very few cared.  "Drill, baby, drill!  USA! USA! We're number one!"  Hurricane Katrina uncovered the inadequacies of the American emergency response system; the response to this incident doesn't lead to a conclusion that any significant improvement has been made.  Most Americans have bought into the meme of "government is the problem", "just get rid of (or don't enforce) these tedious socialistic regulations holding business back and we'll all be rich".  Anything to knock the price of gasoline back a penny per gallon must be good, and anything adding to the cost must be bad.  The Gulf oil spill is a direct and foreseeable consequence of that way of thinking; you got what you paid for.  So stop whining and take the pain.

People in Florida are complaining about contamination of their beaches.  There is a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude in Florida (like California) which seems to come from the fact that they don't allow offshore drilling.  But from my observations that hasn't stopped Floridians from driving big, gas guzzling vehicles.  There's a word for people who want the benefits (i.e. cheap gasoline) of others' endeavours, without the risks -- freeloaders.  Floridians should stop whining and take the pain.

Articles are appearing about the poor widows and orphans (Scots in particular) who are invested in BP and who are losing money due to the share price drop.  I suspect these articles are plants by the banksters, hedge funds, and oil companies who have a vested interest in limiting BP's damages.  For the record, I believe BP should be forced into bankruptcy, the executive management tossed, shareholder equity wiped out, with bondholders taking a huge haircut.  Only when people who manage and finance the mega-corporations feel pain will they begin to pay attention to the risks being taken.  Bankruptcy doesn't mean the corporation has to cease to exist; it just wouldn't have the same management or shareholders after emerging from the bankruptcy.  So, to the shareholders who up to this point haven't been questioning BP on its conduct, you got exactly what you deserved;  stop whining and take the pain. 

Offshore drillers are upset at the 6 month moratorium on new deep water drilling.  Note -- this is not a moratorium on existing production, just on new drilling until the practices, procedures, and equipment can be examined and seen to be in balance with acceptable risk levels.  The moratorium was set aside with an injunction by a judge who himself is now a news item due to his investments in oil producers and drillers.  There are a limited number of drillers, and everyone in the industry knows how the others conduct their business.  This was a "wild well" almost from the start (requiring stricter adherence to safe procedures).  There has been considerable information released on BP's efforts to "cut corners" and hurry drilling on this well.  There is always pressure on drillers to bring a well in fast and cheap.  (In most endeavours involving contractors you get to chose from "fast", "cheap", and "correct"; but you can only chose two of the three.)  Almost all the drillers are quite diligent and thorough in adhering to the safest practices, but when a spill of this magnitude occurs they should not believe it will be business as usual for some time.  Sue BP and the government for your losses.  Drillers should stop whining and take the pain.

There could be court cases for two decades over this spill, based on past environmental disasters.  The manufacturer of the blowout preventer (Cameron) will be involved, as will the drilling contractor (Transocean), and the operator (BP), and Halliburton who did the cement work believed to have failed.  BP also has partners Anadarko and Mitsui who will not want to take any liability.  This circus has way more than three rings.  The government will be involved via the Minerals Management Service (MMS).  Up to this point the MMS personnel have been in the news mostly for alleged sex and drug activities, often with the people they supposedly regulate.  There's nothing new here.  Greed, fraud and corruption have become the three most distinguishing characteristics of American business and government.

Some corporate lawyers might make the bulk of their lifetime earnings off this spill.  America is no longer a nation of laws; it is a nation of lawyers.  BP lawyers will litigate forever on the size of the spill, and how much was caused by BP as opposed to natural seepage and other undocumented leaks.  They will try to shift liability for the spill to the other companies involved, as well as the government.  Everyone will point the finger at everyone else.  The more confusing it gets the longer it takes to reach conclusions, and plaintiffs tend to eventually give up and take some small token settlement.  The oil companies will delay until they have bought compliant politicians (as if they don't already have that) and judiciary (ditto).  Then there will be a negotiated settlement some years down the road when everyone's attention is focused on why the war in Iran is going so poorly in its 10th or 15th year.  Realistically, the oil companies probably only have to make it to the fall; the average citizen will lose interest with the new season of Monday Night Football and American Idol.   So stop whining and take the pain.

Multi-national companies have despoiled the environment and harmed the health of people all over the world, including within America, not just the Gulf of Mexico.  We all want the cheapest energy, metals, chemicals, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, food, etc. and are quite willing to disregard the environmental impact on the people in the areas where those resources are extracted, produced or grown. So now there's a wee bit of a petroleum smudge in the Gulf of Mexico that some people living in the "Redneck Riviera" find inconvenient.  Tough titty -- it's the luck of the draw and you drew the short straw this time.  It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and Tony Hayward was correct to point that out.  In our energy-consumptive consumer societies where the top priority is maximization of corporate profits, some environmental damage is to be expected.  To put it into perspective, there are about 500,000 producing wells in America with about 40,000 new ones drilled every year.  Leaks and spills will become more prevalent in the future with the cost pressures inherent in greater  demand for limited resources.  Embrace the oil, become one with the oil, without it you are nothing ;-).  

Americans tend to display histrionic behaviour over the smallest things.  There is nothing unusual or unpredictable about this spill; like all past and future spills it is a direct and foreseeable consequence of the lifestyles led by us, the citizens of the developed nations.  Learn a little about chickens and their proclivities for roosting locations.  Stop whining and take the pain.

 For those of you who haven't seen the coffee spill spoof of BP, here it is.  Clarke and Dawe have a good one as well.  If you liked the Clarke and Dawe spoof, you should also check out another of theirs, "The Front Fell Off", about an oil tanker break-up near Australia.

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