COLUMN: Playing the blame game in the BP oil spill

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:51 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In this increasingly litigious and unforgiving society, each crisis, every disaster and malfunctions of nearly every stripe trigger furious finger-pointing to assign blame long before investigators gather the facts.

This rush to censure was apparent in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the efforts to fault the Department of Defense for the Abu Ghraib prison debacle and in the late Congressman John Murtha's false accusations against the Marines of atrocities at Haditha, to name a few.

The race to label someone — or anyone — as culpable in the Gulf oil spill is blame-game replay. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration, Time Magazine's Joe Klein, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, Sen. Chris Dodd and a host of drilling engineer experts, currently moonlighting as syndicated columnists, first demonized a familiar target — former President George W. Bush.

Not to be outdone and joined by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, columnists including Robert Scheer (, E.J. Dionne (Washington Post) and Paul Krugman (The New York Times) laid the blame on a combination of Big Oil, greed, capitalism, anti-environmentalists and the American driver. And it is less than helpful in the long run when, instead of looking for the "why," the commander in chief announces that he is in search of someone's derriere to kick.

By process of elimination and the fact that it was its oil rig that caused the damage, BP became the object of piling on by nearly everyone. Although slow to determine and admit to the scope of the disaster in barrels of oil spewed daily, to its credit BP has accepted responsibility for the spill, apologized (an unhelpful necessity) and begun paying damage claims while attempting to stem the flow of crude oil. BP has also set up a $20 billion escrow fund for further claims.

In all probability, BP is either partially or totally responsible for this tragedy affecting the lives, livelihood, ecology and wildlife of the Gulf Coast. BP is also honest enough to accept blame. Nevertheless, when reading or listening to the vitriol heaped upon BP by television's talking heads, syndicated and local columnists and members of both houses of Congress, one would believe that BP, with malice aforethought, blew up the oil rig in a deliberate attempt to destroy the Gulf and forfeit the profit potential of billions of barrels of crude.

To be sure, not all the criticism of drilling in general and of BP in particular is unfounded or over the top — many have questioned built-in safety precautions, regulatory procedures and disaster preparedness. The historical data of rig accident research shows the last major U.S. oil spill occurring in 1969 — not a bad safety record. Exploration, whether for new lands, raw materials, medicine, weapons of war, transport, etc. are all hazardous procedures, but must we surrender to adversity rather than invent a new mousetrap?

Although there is little doubt BP will shoulder most of the blame and costs, some of the panning has been petty and of little import. The silliest of the critics have been members of Congress, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times and several columnists who castigated the industry for including walruses in their ecological protection plans. Although the legislators and the media obviously reveled in this "Gotcha!" moment, neglecting to delete non-native species is of absolutely no relevance to the issue of determining the cause of and fixing the problem.

There are others upon whose shoulders a measure of blame must rest, e.g. why are we drilling in deep water? The environmental "green" lobby has managed to prevent development in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and Alaska's northern slope. And, for shallow-water drilling, the Pacific Ocean and its coastline has been off-limits for three decades as have portions of the Atlantic shelf.

In cleaning up the Gulf spill and recovering the oil, there is also a legitimate question. A number of nations have volunteered ships and crews to assist; however, the Jones Act, which requires U.S.-owned ships and U.S. crews to transport all goods between U.S. ports, has barred their participation. President Bush waived the Jones Act within days of Hurricane Katrina; one must wonder why after two months of oil spillage, a similar action has not occurred.

Finally, although the bashing of BP and the petroleum industry out of frustration for the economic and ecological disaster is understood, there is reality to face. Although I don't doubt the sincerity of those seeking alternate fuels and creation of green jobs, the notion that we can turn our backs on the fossil fuels providing 85 percent of our energy in the foreseeable future is foolish. The world economy is petroleum-based because of its availability, relatively cheap costs and efficiency.

You may demonize oil and coal as you wish; however, I doubt we will see solar-powered aircraft, a return to sailing ships, or waste-powered weaponry. Those serious about creating a cleaner environment should work to remove bans on creating more nuclear energy.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Glenn Rice June 30, 2010 | 9:25 a.m.

I support more research into thorium-based nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, the thorium reaction has no relevance to the weapons industry, so we probably won't see much progress there.

(Report Comment)
Merle Savage June 30, 2010 | 10:23 a.m.

Crude oil continues to invade the Gulf; as BP, the US Government, and other official agencies monitoring the toxic crude, continues to FIDDLE. That is what I called the Dance of Deliberate Deception. No one will come forward with the intestinal fortitude, and declare the obvious - that crude oil is toxic to breathe. I have been told by OSHA that a medical study cannot be conducted until after 6 months of exposure. WHAT? There have been 21 years since the exposure of the crude oil in Prince William Sound, and no one is listening. So, after 6 months of workers in the gulf breathe in the crude oil, a study can be conducted? That leads me to believe that the government is holding up the rug, while BP sweeps known reports under the same rug, and the other agencies conduct the Dance of Deliberate Deception on top of the rug.

Read this alert - stand with me and demand honest answers for the Gulf residents, and cleanup workers who will be suffering from the toxicity of the crude oil, if this political dance is allowed to continue.

My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill beach cleanup in 1989. I am one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers, who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.
Keith Olbermann & Merle Savage
Esquire Magazine:

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush June 30, 2010 | 10:24 a.m.

Seriously? "The historical data of rig accident research shows the last major U.S. oil spill occurring in 1969 — not a bad safety record." You must mean the Santa Barbara spill.

Rig accidents are not the only cause of oil spills. And your use of a narrow criterion is specious at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Here's some wells in the Gulf of Mexico that are still leaking since Katrina in 2005 ( ). This August it will be their 5 year anniversary.

I'm sure your next article will be in praise of the US State Department because they've finally agreed to international assistance ( ).

Regarding your "Gotcha" journalism moment - you do know that the professor Peter Lutz was listed as the national wildlife expert in BP's response plan? The one with the walruses. Unfortunately, he died in 2005 ( ). Why should we trust people who won't update their disaster response plans?

Finally, we already have waste-enhanced weaponry - it's called depleted uranium.
The fact is that we must turn our backs on the fossil fuels and develop new technology. The only thing that I regard as foolish is making excuses for 20th Century technology.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 30, 2010 | 12:15 p.m.

Nuclear energy represents a logical means of meeting electrical demand for the next several decades while at the same time not increasing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. In fact it could result in our being able to take some generating units that burn fossil fuel off-line, a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Globally we now have considerable experience with both nuclear power plant design and operation.

One point needs to be made: we cannot electrify all industrial processes! Some processes require combustion of a fuel. That's not some arbitrary choice; it's an absolute necessity. But do we need to eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions (from products of combustion) or just significantly reduce them? Forget the former, it won't happen, but the latter should be possible.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 30, 2010 | 12:15 p.m.

In all of this mess, the major culprit, it seems to me is the Minerals Management Service, the convoluted and contradictory mission of which is to both regulate and promote off-shore mining. As such, it collects royalties and is second only to the IRS in brining money into federal coffers. Yet the agency has long been rife with scandal and corruption, most pronounced during the Bush administration (see Cheney’s secretive energy task force that gave free rein to the MMS). The agency gave BP a free pass on an unproven, deepwater drilling project, and took BP’s word that it could deal with an emergency. To the best of my knowledge, the project was authorized and approved by the MMS under the Bush administration, but that hardly lets Obama’s administration off the hook. It should have gone after the corrupt agency the minute it took office. Thankfully, it has now done so, too late to affect the current disaster of course, but possibly future accidents can be avoided given more oversight.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 1, 2010 | 8:15 a.m.

Gregg Bush wrote:

"The fact is that we must turn our backs on the fossil fuels and develop new technology."

We have developed a lot of "new technology". The problem is that they are neither concentrated nor scalable enough to significantly replace fossil fuels in any reasonable time frame, no matter how much we fund and encourage them.

Our problem is that we are trying to replace very ideal fuels with diffuse, inefficient, and intermittent sources of energy. That's not to say it can't work, but it cannot happen quickly or seamlessly even if some magical national will appeared to make it happen. By that I mean it's unlikely anyone alive today will see it happen, even under the aforementioned rosy scenario. This is a matter of engineering, physics, and geology, not finance or ideology.

Our biggest problem is we have to accept that we live in world bounded by limits, and the more natural limits (famine, disease, savage war) were temporarily removed largely by fossil fuels. We now have a world population that has exploded in lockstep with that discovery. We can't expect everyone to have an increasing standard of living, to keep the population growing, and to keep us living longer without a rapidly increasing supply of these fuels. And I wouldn't count on us discovering another Earth (or another source of energy as concentrated and versatile as oil, coal, and gas) before we bump into a lot of the old limits.


(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush July 1, 2010 | 10:22 a.m.

Thank you for proving my point. All of the "new technology" that is not concentrated nor scalable enough and simply won't do - we agree on that. However, humans were once thought doomed prior to the industrialization of nitrogen fertilizer. It took engineers, scientists, policy makers and industrialists to create a agricultural calorie boom in the 20th Century.
We may not have even discovered the "new technology" yet. 19th Century industrialization was the steam economy - powered by coal. We stove-piped the petroleum economy onto the steam economy. Let's hope that we can do better in the future.
But I'm not sure this is relevant to the discussion of holding a publicly traded company responsible for the deaths of eleven workers, marshlands and barrier islands.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 2, 2010 | 6:03 a.m.

Gregg Bush wrote:

"But I'm not sure this is relevant to the discussion of holding a publicly traded company responsible for the deaths of eleven workers, marshlands and barrier islands."

Who isn't? And they *are* stepping up and paying out quite a bit of money to compensate for the damage this spill is causing.

The Mexican government welched out on a lot of compensation for PEMEX's Ixtoc I spill in 1979 by declaring sovereign immunity. BP isn't trying to do anything like that. Kind of makes one rethink if it's really good that governments nationalize for-profit facilities.

You must remember that BP does not create the demand for petroleum fuels. We do. All of us. And we want an abundant supply of them and we want them as cheap as possible. If this hadn't happened here, it would have happened somewhere else. Think about that the next time you start your car.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 2, 2010 | 11:53 a.m.

I agree with Mark Foecking's post of July 1st.

I'll add that fuel-air combustion isn't particularly efficient, especially at moderate to high process operating temperatures.

The core problem is the composition of air, which is 79% nitrogen and only 20+% oxygen. Only the oxygen is involved in combustion chemistry, but one still must use up heat to bring the nitrogen to process operating temperatures.

One way tho ameliorate this problem, and improve operating efficiency, is to preheat air used for combustion. A furnace, kiln or other operational device can be designed such that waste heat process heat is used in a heat exchanger to preheat air for combustion.

What about oxygen addition to combustion air? That helps (effectively increasing oxygen and proportionately decreasing nitrogen), but it's expensive and usually not considered for low or moderate temperature operations. On the other hand, if operating temperatures exceed 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit it becomes necessary to add oxygen even with a system for preheating combustion air.

A word about electric heating, since the "alternative fuel sources" seem to lean in that direction.

Two situations: electric arc melting and high temperature electric resistance heating.

Arc melting is found in both metallurgical and ceramic production. It's well developed technology, and we know it consumes a lot of electrical power! It also consumes a lot of electrodes. Still, it is one of the two common methods of producing steel, and is ideal for steel scrap melting (steel recycling).

High temperature resistance heating is also electric power intensive. A concern is that while resistance heating elements last a considerable time at moderate operating temperatures their life at higher temperatures shortens considerably. The elements are expensive. For this reason, and due to power costs, combustion has been preferred.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush July 2, 2010 | 12:33 p.m.

We're all plugged in - one way or another. I'm fortunate enough to live close to work - same with my wife - to bike 4 seasons. We don't drive kids to soccer practice because we don't have kids. We last put fuel in our automobile May 27th of this year. Nevertheless, I can't point to a single bit of clothing that I'm wearing that doesn't have some petroleum byproduct on it. I can't point to a room in my house that doesn't have a petroleum byproduct in it - either for decoration or appliance. So even though I don't start up my car everyday or everyweek - I'm still plugged in to petroleum and its byproducts. Heck, even my bike uses petroleum products.
And while I am a part of the demand for petroleum, I didn't force BP to use poor quality concrete or not replace the redundant blow-out preventor or not take disaster response seriously or hide the hi-def video of the leak or misidentify the amount of seepage.
I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, but I stand by my opinion that we need to turn our backs on fossil fuels and develop new technology.
I think you secretly agree with me - at least, your posts suggest as much.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop July 2, 2010 | 6:25 p.m.

Gregg, please begin by turning your back on oil immediately. Stop using your plastic keyboard, give up your plastic chair which is sitting on your synthetic carpet which was delivered to the store you bought it at in a vehicle powered by oil related fuels, which was made by machinery lubricated by oil based products, for which the minerals to make the metals and plastics that made the machinery that delivered it to the store which was built by machinery and goods all of which would not have been possible without oil.

Unless you and every other wacko in the world is going to run naked in the woods and only eat dead roots, then you are just spewing and not really serious about cutting your dependency on oil and "saving nature".

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 3, 2010 | 6:28 a.m.

Maybe it's time to inject some humor into to this discussion. You may have seen recent Foster Grant glasses ads on TV featuring Raquel Welsh, who has somehow managed to age miraculously (she was born in 1940).

I'm attempting to imagine Raquel Welsh, having forsworn petroleum and petroleum-based products, running buck naked around the woods - but wearing a pair of Foster Grant sun glasses. (Well, you didn't expect Raquel to give up EVERYTHING!)

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush July 3, 2010 | 4:20 p.m.

If me and every other wacko in the world ran naked in the woods and only ate dead roots...there'd still be you and the US military.

Don, BTW - you're really mean. I mean, not mean mean - extreme mean.
And you bully and intimidate - people may think we're related. We could be!
Even Ellis thought this conversation needed some humor.
But it's alright - I can swim with the big fish and not give you a series of demands or name calling.
I had a co-worker read your comments from a few weeks ago...we had a good laugh. The words she used were "catty - like a teenage girl." Just thought I'd let you know.
See you next week!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 3, 2010 | 10:19 p.m.

Gregg Bush wrote:

"I think you secretly agree with me - at least, your posts suggest as much."

Oh, I openly agree with you. And I lead a similarly low-energy life - I run my house on solar PV, bike everywhere, heat with wood, have a yard full of food, etc.

People talk of technologies like cold and hot fusion, and zero-point energy, as ways to replace fossil fuels. The issue I have with that is the enormous amount of energy that must be replaced. Mankind uses energy equal to 9 million Hiroshima sized atomic bombs every year, and we're only getting started. 5/6 of the earth's population does not have consumption patterns like the first would, but 2 billion people in Asia are getting ready to. Any new technology will have to be efficient and scalable enough to take a significant part of that energy load, and that's a really tall order.

My point is, it's unlikely we will find new technologies that will give us what fossil fuels give us, and our only choice will be for more people to live like you and I do. This will have significant social and economic consequences, and I think it would be wise for individuals and governments to prepare for that.

And thank you Ellis, for a very lucid explanation of the need for combustion, and the issues involved with replacing it with electricity. Most people without engineering backgrounds don't understand why industrial processes run the way they do. By using our allocation of fossil fuels wisely, we can be sure we have them for when we need them.


(Report Comment)
Don Milsop July 3, 2010 | 11:14 p.m.

Gee Gregg. So sorry you took offense. Okay, not really. There comes a time to call oppressors what they are. The Founding Fathers found it necessary to actually create a document to call King George III a tyrant. You might be familiar with the Declaration of Independence. Do you think they really cared that King George might be offended?

Nor do Americans care anymore that liberals might be offended by our actually daring to speak out and tell liberals to just stuff your silly ideology. This includes your pathetic cat fight analogy. Conservatives will continue to expose what the true face of liberalism is. You're not progressives. You're repressives. You're incompetent. You're unfit for leadership of anything. And that's simply because you disdain common sense, logic, whatever you want to call it. Your ideas just don't work. And Americans will not let you continue to trample over every aspect of their lives. Your unending lust for power and control, your mockery of moral self control, your telling the masses to cut back while your leaders lavish themselves in luxury show you for what you are.

No, a bully is one who brutalizes the helpless. Murdering a helpless, unborn child would be an excellent example. Defeating a tyrant is not bullying. And
attempting to accuse others of bullying for standing up to a tyrant? Well, that's just another aspect of liberalism.

I can see November from my front porch. And I don't think you're going to like it.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 3, 2010 | 11:53 p.m.

Don, Gregg's and my discussion had nothing to do with ideology. Energy policy is something that can be determined absolutely and rationally, and inserting politics into the discussion is not productive.

Please don't politicize when you shouldn't.


(Report Comment)
Don Milsop July 4, 2010 | 4:02 a.m.

Mark, "Energy policy is something that can be determined absolutely" doesn't mean it was determined correctly. Liberal energy policies being rational can be rejected based on emerging technologies.

Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University made interesting observations. The global warming scare began with the end of the Cold War. Universities lost the defense funding they were used to for 40 years. A new boogey man was needed. These proponents of global warming were students of the professors who 20 years earlier warned about the coming global ice age. What nobody is talking about is the coming shift in both the sun’s and earth’s magnetic poles. Over the last 120 years the strength of the earth’s magnetic fields has decreased. NASA says the possibility of a solar magnetic shift could take place as soon as 2012. Earth’s could come soon, but could take thousands of years to complete. We do know the north magnetic pole has been shifting southward at a rate of 40 miles per year as of 2009. With the weakening and shifting of the earth’s magnetic fields around the earth, those areas where fields got weaker allowed more solar energy to reach the earth, creating warming. Where they have shifted to weaker areas that became stronger, less energy reaches earth and those areas experienced cooling. Neither has one darned thing to do with what mankind does on this planet.

Technology has its place and time based on economic factors. Improvements in the extraction of oil from shale deposits have been phenomenal in the last five years. As technology improves the process, shale fuels will replace many conventional uses of normal crude oil, and coupled with nuclear power will extend the projected life time of proven reserves dramatically.

Today's standards can’t predict tomorrow’s resources. That’s as invalid today as it was in the time of Thomas Malthus. His projections on population versus food supply were totally without merit due to changes in technology. To put finite limits on the abilities of man to change our environment and improve our efficiencies is to deny the nature of humans. Under a free society you have a choice to limit yourself. You should not have a choice to limit others in their pursuit of happiness unless their exercise of that right should endanger you or your property with demonstrable immediacy, or is in some way abhorrent to the people and also against the law.

After observing Shoemaker-Levy 9, I am a lot more worried about that undiscovered rock in space we’re going to collide with in the next 48 hours to 500,000 years. That is climate change and environmental disaster you can believe in! Look up meteor 2008 TC3. It was discovered 20 hours before impact. We’re at the mercy of the universe. We can make very short term changes to our biosphere, but the universe will eventually show how pathetically inept we are to effect meaningful changes in the face of truly earth changing events.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 4, 2010 | 6:28 a.m.

Actually, Don, there is nothing inherently liberal or conservative about energy policies. We know we have a certain amount of resources, and a certain demand for them. Since energy is as necessary to our society today as food and water, it makes sense to conserve and apportion it before the market does. The free market apportions energy with shortages and high prices, which are far more disruptive than rationing and energy taxes would be.

Earth being hit by a comet is an unpredictable, random event, which has happened before (the crater in Mexico, and another in Siberia, I believe). Demand for energy in excess of supply is something entirely predictable, and avoidable. Government exists to take the long view, and in the absence of demonstrable alternatives, needs to act to limit energy consumption so the disruptions of energy shortages don't happen.

Malthus would have been right if we had not discovered fossil fuels. Sooner or later, we will run into the limits of our finite world, and it would be far better to plan for this rationally than to run into them by surprise.

I think the free market does an admirable job at developing and pricing resources. It will do singularly lousy job at keeping us moving, and the lights on, in an energy shortage. The mess (and waste) caused by the fuel shortages in Atlanta in 2008 were entirely preventable. If gas stations were required to have real time inventories available over the Web, and with a rationing plan in place, Atlantans would have been spared the uncertainty of knowing where their next tank of gas was coming from. Millions of gallons of gas would have been saved, and untold amounts of time and human angst also.

In terms of shale oil (which isn't really what you mean - I suspect you mean shale gas, or extraction of oil from tight formations like the Bakken), we also start to have problems with net energy. If it takes a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of oil, it's no longer worth it. Unconventional oil production has a much lower net energy, and as it becomes more difficult, will soon be found to be unproductive.

We can have a high standard of living using half the energy we do now - Europe shows us this. We're becoming more like Europe every day (through our own industrial and social actions), and it's time to man up and admit it. It's time to cut out the waste. And yes, your actions do affect me. If I can't get a gallon of gas to till my gardens because you burned it up partying at the Lake, it does affect me. And as a society, we need to treat fossil fuels like the precious gift they are, rather than something we take for granted. There is no ready alternative.


(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush July 4, 2010 | 9:00 a.m.

I'm reminded of a search warrant affidavit - specifically Section 3(9). I'll post the link.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 4, 2010 | 9:34 a.m.

When electricity is generated it has to be transmitted to the point(s) where it is used. Most of us have seen trunk electrical transmission lines.

What metal is used to produce those cables? Copper? Well, of metals available in commercial quantities, copper is best suited for electrical transmission.

But those cables aren't copper, they're an aluminum alloy! Isn't that less efficient? Somewhat, although aluminum is also a very good electrical conductor.

The choice has to do with the densities of copper and aluminum, copper having higher density. To use copper cable would require more support towers per mile than use of aluminum cable.

So we sacrifice optimum transmission efficiency in order to have a more reasonably-sized transmission structure, and we save the copper that would have been used to use for other purposes.

Engineering solutions to problems frequently consist of COMPROMISES, and we also have to deal with political and/or socially mandated compromises.

But to the technically ignorant, everything is possible.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 4, 2010 | 10:15 a.m.

Ellis Smith wrote:

"To use copper cable would require more support towers per mile than use of aluminum cable."

There's also the matter of cost. Aluminum wire costs about 1/3 what copper does, and it's not that much less efficient.

"But to the technically ignorant, everything is possible."

I had a discussion the other day with an energy activist that is very much in favor of a "smart grid". This would be able to instantly match electrical supply and demand from constantly varying sources all over the nation. I tried to get him to understand what a horrendously complex thing that would be, from the thousands of new transmission lines that would need to be built (with corresponding territorial and eminent domain issues) to the control aspects of managing such a beast. He told me "We made it to the moon, we can do this".

No. They're fundamentally different problems. The Apollo program, or the Manhattan project, only had to develop prototypes. That's easy, especially when you have pretty much unlimited funding and talent. Repowering America is, by far, the largest national project we could ever undertake. It would dwarf our manufacturing effort during WWII, or the construction of the interstate highway system, by a couple of orders of magnitude. And yet people keep thinking we can do it in a decade or two if they would only vote in the right people.


(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller July 4, 2010 | 5:10 p.m.

Inasmuch as I have been performing some of my civic duties for the County Clerk in support of the pending primaries, I had no idea my last opinion column had generated so much comment, pro and con as well as generating original thought. It appears that a good time was had by all and some good ideas surfaced among the humor.

Nevertheless, I take issue with Greg Bush's "Rig accidents are not the only cause of oil spills. And your use of a narrow criterion is specious at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Here's some wells in the Gulf of Mexico that are still leaking since Katrina in 2005"

I did not claim that oil spills were caused only by rig accidents: however, the statement that the last major oil spill occurred in 1969 is correct. Accordingly, the lumping of oil leakage caused by hurricanes with that from rig accidents mixes apples with oranges--an equally specious and intellectually dishonest form of criticism.

There has been and continues to be leakage caused by Katrina, Rita, Ike, Ivan and Gustav, along with the spontaneous leaking in areas of no wells. Most of these are "passive spills" limited to the oil, deisel, and chemicals stored on platforms and rigs destroyed in hurricanes or in pipelines sectIons damaged between valves. The vast majority were classified by the Coast Guard as minor.

There is an incident report prepared for each oil spill and its data clearly delineates those hurricane related ones. The real story is, that despite the hurricanes, the region suffered no MAJOR spills from accidents or hurricanes during the period 1969 to 2010.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 4, 2010 | 5:43 p.m.

Actually the last major oil spill in the region was Ixtoc I in 1979. It spilled roughly 150 million gallons of crude over about 18 months, and depending who you talk to, was still the largest spill in the Gulf as of today. However, it was a PEMEX well, not a private oil companies'.


(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush July 4, 2010 | 6:28 p.m.

Thank you for your service.
Col. Miller you wrote - "The historical data of rig accident research shows the last major U.S. oil spill occurring in 1969 — not a bad safety record."
I believe you to be an honest broker, but I can't find the last major rig spill in the area from 1969. The Santa Barbara spill was off California's coast - that was in 1969. Valdez was not a rig spill and was off the coast of Alaska. The Greenpoint Oil Spill was in New York and in 1978 - not a rig spill. The Bouchard No. 120 Oil Spill was on the East Coast, in 1969, not a rig spill and was only 189,000 gallons of #2 fuel oil. There's the Ixtoc1 in the Gulf of Mexico, 1979, was a rig spill but not by the US.
I disagree with your claim of a "not bad" safety record.
If I cite Valdez - it's not a rig. If I cite Ixtoc1 - it's not US. If I cite Mega Borg - that was a lightning event. I didn't mean to put words in your column that aren't there, I'm taking you literally.
I read and re-read everything you write and take it seriously. Please help me understand the real story. I've mentioned only a few oil spills from historical data. If I'm comparing apples to oranges (wouldn't be the first time)- please show me the other apple -- the MAJOR US oil spill in the region from a rig in 1969. (Just because I can't find something doesn't mean it's not there.)
Otherwise, I stand by my suggestion that "The historical data of rig accident research shows the last major U.S. oil spill occurring in 1969 — not a bad safety record" is unfounded.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop July 5, 2010 | 9:15 p.m.

Mark, we also have unknown amounts of resources and future technology that will change demands. Conservation of resources always made sense in any society to the penny wise.

Being hit by a space object might be unpredictable, but it is certain. The Siberian air burst was far more powerful than the one over Sudan. The object was less than 60 yards in diameter, and exploded with a force of 10-15 megatons, 3-6 miles up. 1908 is not the distant past. Try something a 1/4 mile to mile in diameter impacting or bursting over us. Would be far more disruptive to our power grid. Government should take the long view, but the spending of this and the last administration and both congresses prove this does not occur with regularity.

Your statement about Malthus is partially true. Fossil fuels helped us in harvesting, planting, and distribution. Genetic experiments allowed us to produce more crops per acre, along with better use of soils, fertilizers, and irrigation. Mankind has constantly overcome stated limits of our finite world. We defeated plague and famine which used to control population levels. Yet the banning of DDT, has killed more than 100,000 people in the last 50 years from malaria.

You speak of fuel shortages in Atlanta in 2008, but ignore we haven't built one new gasoline refinery since 1980, and only modified one other. Hardly a valid comparison to free markets working when the population has increased but you won't expand production. And I did mean shale oil. That you have to heat the rock to turn it gaseous which allows you to distill an improved product doesn't change the term. That is separate from releasing gas trapped in sedimentary rocks. If oil weren't there to begin with, they couldn't burn it directly in some processes to produce energy. It can be burned without additional processing. Shell's recent in situ processing has shown that extraction of shale oil could become competitive when oil prices are over $30 per barrel and even as low as $20 per barrel.

Europe shows us they are very capable of lying to present a liberal approved positive outcome to "green energy" production as we've seen in Spain. We are becoming more like Europe every day, through socialism and debt. That's not where I want to go. If I'm going to man up, it'll be to ensure we maintain a far higher standard of living than the Europeans, and not be a slave to the state or go the girly man route of European or American liberals. Can't get a gallon of gas to till your gardens? Ask why no more gasoline refineries are being built.

The history of liberals tells us why we can't. The history of Americans is to go out, do it, and then tell you how we did it. I prefer the latter. You may not, but that's your choice. And I won't let you force your choice on me without a very big battle, which, by the way, you will lose.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 16, 2010 | 3:45 a.m.

Sorry I missed this before.

Here's the problem, Don, You're looking at our charmed national history and attributing our success to free enterprise, and expecting the future to be like the past. Our success has a lot more to do with luck, and the fact we were able to exploit our natural resources very effectively (score one for the free market). However, luck and hard work must give way to physics and geology.

The reason we aren't building more refineries is more because we don't need more of them. We've expanded capacity at existing ones by 20% between 1985 and the present, and now have some spare capacity because of the recession. Why should an oil company go to the expense of building a refinery if they know there won't be an increasing supply of oil to refine?

The shortages in Atlanta were due to refinery shutdowns after hurricanes, not lack of primary refinery capacity. I used that as an example of how the free market would handle a fuel shortage, especially in the presence of "anti-gouging" laws. Merchants simply sell what they have and close, and if you don't get any, too bad. The government steps in and rations water, and to many people, gasoline is just as essential (because of shortsighted choices they have made). I don't consider it an invasion of my freedom for government to ensure that everyone that "needs" it can get at least some of it in a shortage. Similarly, I don't think it's wrong from government to take steps to ensure that such an essential commodity is used wisely. If this means you can't drive what you want or when you want, it's better than not being able to drive at all, at times not of your own choosing.

Thank you for correcting me regarding shale oil. I know something about in situ extraction, and this process is a promising technology. However, there is currently no commercial shale oil production in the US. Canada's tar sands have taken the oil majors over 30 years to raise production to about 1.5 million barrels/day, and this timeline is likely to roughly apply to shale oil also. We currently use 18.5 million barrels a day. This is not production I'd bank on to meaningfully increase (or even supplement) our oil supply in the next few decades.

We've become a lot more like Europe because of our de-industrialization, expensive labor and cost of production, and reliance on imports for essential commodities, not anything having to do with socialism (or even debt, although that is our other great problem, and a consequence of us becoming a net oil importer and not doing something about it). We've simply evolved along the same social lines as they have, and the same lines that China is getting ready to do now. It's not something to fear, but it is something to plan for.

Cont'd below...

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 16, 2010 | 3:47 a.m.

Cont'd from above:

As far as forcing anyone to live a certain way, the limits of the world will force us all to live a certain way if we do not mind them. The oil price shock of 2008 was a wake-up call. We cannot expect the supply of a limited, essential resource, which is becoming increasingly hard to find in large amounts, and for which there is no ready or likely substitute, to keep growing without limit. This isn't liberal or conservative, it's just facing reality. Believing we still have a bountiful supply of easily extracted oil is simply delusion, and that won't change whatever one's ideology is.

We have run out of viable supply side options, and must start to work on the demand side, as other oil-importers have. Our energy situation has markedly changed since the '70s, and no amount of wishing (or political posturing) will change it back. I don't like to say that any more than you do, but it's a fact we must not ignore.

As far as who will lose? Humans aren't really that smart, or ingenious, or powerful. Nature bats last, and she's a really heavy hitter.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 16, 2010 | 6:17 a.m.

Supplies of ALL fossil fuels are finite. But don't we sometimes find new deposits (that is, deposits we previously didn't recognize)? Yes, that happens, but in the end supplies are finite.

The same applies to industrial minerals that are not fuels. We may run out of some of them before we run out of recoverable fossil fuels. This situation is a hot topic at one campus of this university, but we suppose the media will ignore it until it becomes a crisis. TV news media in particular love crises.

I agree that we need to be looking at controlling energy demand, but at the same time we can do more with how we allocate non-renewable energy sources.

(Report Comment)

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