Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce
It was inevitable that BP would be made the pariah, not by the public and the politicians — that happened within weeks of the Deepwater Horizon explosion — but by the energy industry. As the evidence mounts that British Petroleum just didn’t give much of a crap, that it placed expedience and profit ahead of safety, the industry and especially its offshore component have been forced to draw a contrast, to isolate the bad apple before it spoils the barrel.
Hearings on Capitol Hill in May starring BP, Transocean and Halliburton occasioned a lot of finger pointing, as self-preservation would dictate. But into June BP still seemed to be part of the fraternity. The tragedy in the Gulf was an anomaly, industry apologists insisted, a dead-end mutation in an otherwise ascendent evolution toward safety and environmental responsible.
The industry’s hand was forced as it became clear that BP was a tragedy waiting to happen. Now BP is isolated, and the industry in which it is a major player is starting to pile on.
Last week I got an e-mail from Save U.S. Energy Jobs, a project of the American Energy Alliance, a trade group that touts itself as “dedicated to promoting jobs, energy affordability, and safety in the development of our offshore resources.” The e-mail directed me to Save U.S. Energy Jobs’ website where one can view video testimonials from industry experts on BP’s bad decisions, among other resources. Most helpful for the layman is an info-graphic striking a contrast between best practices adopted by the industry as a whole and the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 20. The graphic features an illustration of a rig and well running down the center separating “Industry standard” on the left from “BP’s standard” on the right. A bright, yellow sun shines down on clear blue water on the industry standard side; clouds and lightning strikes cast shadows onto the murky water of BP’s standard.
Working down the graphic’s strata — air, water and earth — one learns that BP didn’t circulate its drilling mud enough to prevent a gas buildup, it used too few centralizers on its casings, which were too long to begin with, and that it ignored a host of warning signs.
I don’t know what centralizers and casings are, but the colors in the graphic say it all: bright and clean — the industry standard — versus dark and ominous — BP.
My perception of the energy industry is colored by a two-week stint as a deckhand on a crew boat in the Gulf the summer after my freshman year in college. It was supposed to be a whole summer of two on and two off, but rough seas, nearly constant nausea, the insomnia-inducing split shifts — noon to 4 p.m. and midnight to 4 a.m. — and the fact that deckhand is the maritime term for maid convinced me that I had neither the literal nor the figurative intestinal fortitude to last more than two weeks.
One of the first instructions I got from the captain was to make sure nothing bearing any information on the company, the boat or its personnel went into the trash because the trash was thrown overboard, and the company didn’t want the flotsam traced back to it. Based on the captain’s matter-of-fact tone, tossing garbage overboard was standard operating procedure. I wondered as I heaved those plastic bags of oily napkins and greasy food packages into the Gulf how many deckhands on what must have been at least dozens if not scores of other crew boats were following SOP. And that was just the service boats; where the trash from the rigs went I never knew.
Maybe Save U.S. Energy Jobs is right, that the oil business is cleaner than my memory serves, and that the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling is an overreaction — that BP is the exception not the norm. An event at the Cajundome in a week — the dire-sounding Rally for Economic Survival — will make that case.
Yet in the backdrop are polls suggesting that most Americans part with Louisiana and support the moratorium. And they likely wonder, is BP a pariah or the leader of the pack?
As the evidence mounts that BP just didn’t give much of a crap, the industry has been forced to draw a contrast, to isolate the bad apple before it spoils the barrel.
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