The Time to Fix the Roof is Before it Starts Raining[1]

May 14, 2010

12" pipe leaking oil (2)

The need to be proactive regarding danger is obvious enough.  Unfortunately, we rarely are.  We, as a nation, tend to accept the best-case scenario as our hallmark for disaster planning with horrific results.  Hurricane Katrina is just one example of improper planning resulting in catastrophe.  Now the Gulf area faces a new disaster from an oil spill.  In the end, perhaps neither was preventable but proper planning would have limited the damage.

A lot of sayings deal with planning, the one used as the title by President Kennedy speaks to finding and addressing defects before they become immediate problems.  As understandable as it seems, it is exactly where we fail.  Take Katrina, for instance, it is easy to blame the federal government for its poor response to the disaster but the state of Louisiana and indeed the city of New Orleans failed to plan for such an event and have an effective means to deal with it.  Had they, the loss of life and suffering would have been greatly reduced.

That is an example of government failing to recognize a danger.  They are not the only ostriches sticking their heads in the sand; big business does it too.  The current oil spill illustrates the point.  British Petroleum (BP), Transocean Ltd, and Halliburton (the three companies involved with the failed oilrig) are busy pointing the finger at each other while they face the herculean task of cleaning up the mess.  Their collective assurance that something like this could not happen is little comfort to all concerned.

While it will take months to sort out just what went wrong, the root cause stands out like a flashing light in the dark – improper planning.  The event they said could not happen, did happen.  Because they assumed it would not, they had no plan to deal with it.  Because a safety feature, the blowout valve, was assumed would always work, it became a single point of failure in a system that should not allow for single points of failure, regardless of belief.

In the end, the disaster will cost each company millions of dollars.  Rather than spend much less upfront, they gambled, lost, and now face paying much, much more.  That, of course, does not even take into account the loss of life and the devastating environmental effects.  That gamble does bring up another question, where were the federal government regulators in all this?  It is not as if the companies had not supplied a disaster plan to them.  More than likely, they simply failed to question safety and assumed it would all work out.

While it is too late to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is not too late for preventing future ones.  Even with the spill, it appears President Obama is still in favor of offshore drilling[3] which makes it even more important to change the approach to safety.  Rather than assume the best, we must assume each rig will fail in the worst possible way, and put safety systems in place to handle it.  Not drilling at all is the safest way but given America’s demand for more and more oil, we have little choice until that appetite is addressed.  It is true the cost of a rig will increase with better safety measures designed in.  That cost is nothing compared to the cost of cleaning up.

Even beyond clean-up costs, spills hurt the value of a company.  Since the spill, the stock price for BP has fallen about 17%[4].  That is a $32 billion drop in value.  Perhaps the $1 million or so spent on better safety seems a deal to BP now.  The question is how to change that hindsight into foresight.

The oil spill is going to influence the debate regarding offshore drilling.  On the one hand, we need the oil.  On the other, nobody wants oil soaked beaches and the wholesale devastation of a spill.  What must be apparent to everyone is the need to put safety first, before delivery quotas, and before profits.  It is too important an issue to allow companies to self-regulate as their motive is profit based.  As horrible as the current spill is, it simply has announced the rainy season is coming; we need to fix the offshore drilling roof now before we face even more devastation.

[1]Kennedy, John F. “John F. Kennedy Quotes – 46 Quotations by John F. Kennedy – Dictionary Quotes.” Dictionary Quotes – Source for Famous Quotes – Quote of the Day – Dictionary of Quotations. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.dictionaryquotes.com/authorquotations/856/John_F_Kennedy.php&gt;.

[2] MSV Skandi Neptune. BP Oil Leak Underwater Photo 1. 2010. Photograph. Treehugger. Discovery Communications, LLC. Web. 14 May 2010. .

[3] Stein, Sam. “Gibbs: ‘Premature’ For Obama To Change Position On Offshore Drilling.” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 3 May 2010. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/03/gibbs-premature-for-obama_n_561313.html&gt;.

[4] La Monica, Paul R. “The Buzz: BP May Keep Falling Due to Bad PR from Oil Spill – May. 4, 2010.” Business, Financial, Personal Finance News – CNNMoney.com. 04 May 2010. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/04/markets/thebuzz/index.htm&gt;.

One comment

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