Crisis (Mis) Management and the Gulf Oil Spill

by L J Furman, MBA on July 16, 2010

in BP, Connecting the Dots, Deepwater Horizon, Ecological Disasters, Ecology, Energy, Environmental Catastrophe, Oil, Outside the Box


What BP and the Government Could Have Done and Should Be Doing (updated 10/7/10)

The handling of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is a textbook study of how not to manage a crisis. The government and the Obama Administration seems to have understated the problem and ceded responsibility to BP, which seems to have acted to protect the Macondo oil field rather than the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast.

It seems clear that neither BP nor the government were prepared for an event like this. At a minimum, both BP and the government should have had an understanding of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of an accident and, more importantly, an ability to shut off the flow of oil – to minimize the damage – as is the case with rigs operating in the waters of the North Sea.

BP’s initial public statements were clearly inaccurate. On May 14, 2010, while BP was emphasizing 5,000 barrels per day reaching the surface, NPR reported scientific analysis suggesting 70,000 barrels per day was gushing from the well. On June 15, 2010, the U. S. Government revised its estimate to 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. We now know that crude oil gushing from a broken well on the sea floor is like an iceberg – most is below the surface. BP and the government should have been accurate, open, and forthcoming in their statements.

BP answers to stockholders and to the governments of the jurisdictions in which it operates. The U. S. government’s regulatory regime should have been stricter and more comprehensive. While BP might not be expected to go beyond what is mandated by law, it can neither be expected to regulate itself nor act in the interest of anyone but shareholders.

Where do we go from here?

  1. The leak appears to have been closed. This must be verified.
  2. Future leaks must be prevented.
  3. And the oil must be cleaned up.

On July 15, 2010, 85 days after the explosion, BP and the government announced that the oil appears to have stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Using the government’s current estimate of 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day, we are looking at 2.975 to 5.1 million barrels of oil. The oil will hit the beaches, marshes, and bayous until it is cleaned up – perhaps as early as January, 2011, assuming clean-up of 30,000 barrels per day, and good weather.

Christopher Brownfield, U. S. Navy, Retired, author of “My Nuclear Family, A Coming-of-Age in America’s Twenty-First Century Military,” called for President Obama to order the U. S. Navy to close the well with any tools in their arsenal, including conventional, non-nuclear weapons. Under the best case, Brownfield says, “this would stop the leak and enable subsequent drilling into the oil-field.” I would like to hear Mr. Brownfield’s current assessment.

To prevent future leaks, President Obama ordered a 6 month moratorium on deepwater drilling. However, Judge Feldman, who sits on the Federal District Court, has ruled that the administration had failed to justify the need for a blanket moratorium, reinforcing for some the image of the government as big, perhaps incompetent, and unfocused; with different branches operating at cross purposes from each other. As was stated in an earlier post, the editors of Popular Logistics disagree with Judge Feldman. Considering the evidence in the Gulf of Mexico, Ecuador, Nigeria, Prince Edward Sound, Montcoal, W. V, upriver of Kingston, Tenn, in the coal mines of China, and in the mercury levels in fish, shellfish, dolphins, and whales, we have concluded that the use of fossil fuels present an imminent danger. The “Precautionary Principle”  dictates that we must stop drilling and figure out to move off fossil fuels.

Oil is important to the economy – at present. However, the earth, the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, the oysters, shrimp, fish, birds, turtles, and dolphins, the cities, towns and bayous from Key West, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana to Cancun, Mexico are more important to the present and the future than an oil field, even one containing one billion barrels. This catastrophic event, coming as it does on the heels of the tragic accident at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, and the Dec. 22, 2008 flood of 1.2 billion gallons of coal ash from the Kingston Steam Plant in Tennessee, underscores the need to shift the paradigm from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable, sustainable energy; to move, as BP might say, “beyond petroleum and fossil fuel.”

The government and BP, via BP Solar, should announce at least one new photovoltaic solar module factory and distribution center. This should be developed in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, or Texas. This would stimulate the clean energy industry, help the economy, partially offset the jobs lost, and jump-start this paradigm shift to clean, renewable, sustainable energy. A 10 to 50 kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system should be installed – at cost – on every public school and government building in the region, and the country. This would also change BP and the government from poster children for corporate irresponsibility and incompetence to partners in 21 Century Energy; one a model corporate citizen, the other, in Lincoln’s words, “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

This article, “Crisis Management and the Gulf Oil Spill“, which was also published on 3BL Media, here, on July 14, 2010, concludes this subset of the Popular Logistics series on the Deepwater Horizon / Macondo oil well disaster, My coverage began after Earth Day for the Future, April 23, 2010. The series will continue with photographs of this and other catastrophes. Contact me at ‘lfurman 97 [at] gmail [dot] com” if you are interested in supporting this work. Other posts include:

  1. Fossil Fuels and a Walk on the Moon, May 3, 2010.
  2. Drill Baby Drill or Drill Baby Oops, May 7, 2010.
  3. The Magnitude of the Spill, May 15, 2010.
  4. One Month After The Spill BP Siphoning 3,000 Barrels Per Day, May 20, 2010.
  5. Deep Water Horizon – The Chernobyl of Deepwater Drilling?, June 2, 2010.
  6. The Deepwater Horizon: 40,000 Barrels Per Day or 70,000, June 13, 2010.
  7. The Deepwater Horizon After the Macondo Well Explosion, June 19, 2010.
  8. Deepwater Horizon – Bombs and Hurricanes, July 1, 2010, and
  9. Like a Bad High School Math Problem, July 14, 2010.
  10. Crisis Management and the Gulf Oil Spill, July 16, 2010.
  11. The Deepwater Horizon: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, October 7, 2010.

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