Monday, October 31, 2011

Plagiarism Masquerading as “Leading From Behind”

“Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.”

The Obama administration has a modus operandi that has become quite familiar. They lurk in the background and wait to see how an operation develops before committing to ownership of the decision making process. If the process is working they claim credit for it, if it isn’t working they place blame elsewhere (It’s Bush’s fault!). Personal responsibility is not in their playbook. Given the size of their media microphone, an ownership claim on their part drowns out any claims by the real leader, the one truly out in front in real time. In effect the plagiarist becomes the author in the public eye by co-option.

One can see this strategy at play in the issue of America’s energy policy. Note that the current Obama energy strategy is not all that different from Rick Perry’s. Note this collection of stories from the Wall Street Journal

BP Moves to Return to Gulf
BP PLC won approval from U.S. officials on Friday to look for oil at new sites in the Gulf of Mexico, the company's first exploration plan in U.S waters to get the go-ahead since the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The approval represents an important step in the company's efforts to return to the good graces of federal regulators. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it approved a plan in which the U.K. oil giant proposes to drill up to four wells in a part of the Gulf of Mexico known as Keathley Canyon.
U.S. to Resume Lease Sales for Oil Drilling in the Gulf
The Obama administration said Friday it would sell leases for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since last year's oil spill and subsequent six-month drilling ban…
Earlier this month, the Interior Department gave Royal Dutch Shell conditional approval of its plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean next summer. In May, President Barack Obama said the administration would hold annual lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum reserve.
Shell Closer to Arctic Drilling
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed a longtime obstacle to Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Arctic offshore drilling plans, granting the company final air-quality permits to drill for oil and natural gas off the coast of Alaska.
The permits will allow Shell to operate the Discoverer drill ship and a support fleet of icebreakers, oil-spill response vessels and supply ships for up to 120 days each year in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea Outer Continental Shelf starting in 2012, the EPA said.

Issuing drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico, selling more offshore oil and gas leases and reining in the EPA, what more could Rick Perry do than what Obama has already done? Of course to do this has taken a considerable mid-course correction that has left the Democrats in Congress apoplectic. Ed Markey (D-MA) is fit to be tied.

A Case Study – the BP Macondo Well

From my own personal experience, I can illustrate this technique. Last year the explosion and oil spill caused by the blowout of the BP Macondo well put the administration in a tight spot. Not desiring ownership of the spill, they quickly began using BP as their scapegoat, an honor richly deserved by BP and its drilling contractors. They got a big assist from BP’s chairman Tony Hayward whining about getting his life back. For over a month they got away with just acting macho, putting Ken Salazar’s boot on BP’s throat and having the president himself looking for asses to kick. But then the mood shifted as the public decided they weren’t as interested in who was responsible for creating the mess, they just wanted to know who was going to “plug the damn hole”. As U S Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told them, the federal government did not have the resources to plug the hole and it needed to rely on BP and, more importantly, BP’s well control contractors to do the job. Note that the people responsible for causing the accident were totally different from those who were in charge of fixing the problem.

To carry out the scam the administration needed the cooperation of a compliant press dependent on insiders to feed them leaks to publish. These useful idiots can’t afford to speak truth to power or they will lose their edge and have to make a living the old fashioned way, by doing hard hitting investigative journalism instead of puff pieces. The benefit to us is that these advocacy journalists can document the administration’s viewpoint quite accurately as a result of having such detailed inside information. I will use the Washington Post’s blogger Joel Achenbach as our mole into the minds of the administration through his account of events in his book A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.

The proximate issue at hand was the debate that took place after BP has installed the capping stack and stopped the flow of oil into the gulf on July 15, 2010. One would think that this success would partially mitigate BP’s culpability for its part in causing the spill. But the bullies of the administration couldn’t resist denigrating this milestone. And being the cowards so many bullies are, they wanted to deny BP any credit for its efforts at all. Given the hysteria surrounding the blowout, particularly on MSNBC, there was a concern that keeping the well shut in would cause the sea floor to erupt into an underground blowout that could not be controlled. There was disagreement over how to interpret the results of the well integrity test. Achenbach described the situation this way (Pg 215)

The expectations management strategy of the government and BP had been all too effective. The Sisyphean task of fighting the well had become so familiar to the public that the breakthrough moment was met with disbelief. The plume was gone---and indeed, it was never to be seen again---but optimism had not yet infiltrated the narrative of the nightmare well and the incompetent oil company and the ineffectual government. The Macondo rules still applied, for now, at least in the national conversation about this oil spill response, this festival of fecklessness. Success was not yet a plausible option.

That was where the situation sat as tropical storm Bonnie caused an interruption in the well control efforts. It was during this interregnum that the issue continued to be debated online on the Peak Oil website, The Oil Drum. Here is my contribution to the debate

Just pump the mud in slowly. Let us consider the ramifications of starting a new 24 [hour] well integrity test with the shut-in pressure rising at a rate of 1 psi per hour. So to stay within the agreed boundaries, they would end the 24 hr period with the pressure 24 psi higher than when they started. So pump in the mud at 20 psi above the starting pressure (4 psi below the agreed pressure limit) for 24 hours.

Given that the diameter of the kill line is about 2", the pressure differential is 20 psi, the weight of the mud is 16 ppg (SG = 1.9) we go to our handy-dandy calculator and presto-changeo we can flow 197 gallons per min, or about 5 barrels per minute or 300 barrels per hour or 3000 barrels in 10 hours. I believe the well bore is about 3000 barrels max. So you could kill the well and drop the pressure at the BOP to 2250 psi, the same as the sea water at the mud line in less than half a day
Anybody think killing the well and relieving the pressure on the BOP before the next technical briefing might be a good thing (excluding Matt Simmons of course, as he'd lose his ass on his BP stock short position and the media who would be left looking totally clueless once again)?

That is a concise description of what would come to be called “the static kill”.

Picking up the story with Achenbach again (Pg 230)

The relief well, as Thad Allen never failed to remind everyone, was the ultimate solution to the crisis. But BP surprised everyone with a new idea (I wonder where they got it??? - Ed): Even before the relief well intercepted Macondo, BP would try to kill the well from the top again in what amounted to a do-over of the top kill. This would be a “static kill”, because the well would not be flowing. In the new procedure, the mud wouldn’t have to be pumped furiously into the well but could mosey into the well at a leisurely pace (5 barrels per minute perhaps?? –Ed). After an initial rise in pressure, the well would see pressures fall as the mud pushed---or “bullheaded”-oil down into the reservoir.

Chu (Steven Chu – Ed) and some of the other scientists had little enthusiasm for the new plan. Chu felt jerked around by BP. The company had surprised the government with the static kill idea…

Garwin was adamant BP shouldn’t attempt the static kill…Gizmologist Alex Slocum, echoing Garwin, argued that the smart path forward would be the production of oil from the reservoir. Rather than trying to plug the Macondo well, why not drain the reservoir in a controlled fashion…

There was another factor on BP’s mind: the engineering protocol for the relief well operation required that the Macondo well be reopened briefly at the top---flowing anew into the gulf---just prior to the bottom kill. There were sound engineering reasons to vent the oil from the stack, and it wouldn’t be much oil compared to what had leaked already. But the plume would be back. The plume! The hideous oil geyser from the depths of hell! It would surely incite an epic foofaraw in the news media…

Chu finally decided that the static kill was worth the risk. The operation was a go…

On August 3, the 106th day of the crisis, BP performed an “injection test”, putting a fluid known as base oil into the well from the top. The pressure increased only slightly, then began to drop---just as the engineers had hoped (More like predicted Mr. Achenbach! –Ed). P quickly followed with a heavy drilling mud. The pressure continued to drop. At eleven o’clock that night, Macondo was chocked with mud. On the night of August 4, BP followed the successful mud shot with a massive dose of cement.

Macondo now had a mile of cement in its gullet

And nobody from the administration even had the common decency to say “Thank you!”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marx Was Right - Woodstock to Zuccolli Park

Conservatives may disagree with Karl Marx’s economic theories, but they must agree that he was right when he said “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. The Occupy Wall Street protestors are a pallid echo of their forebears at Woodstock during August 1969. At least at Woodstock there were real injustices about, such as 19 & 20 year old draftees being sent to Vietnam without ever having a say in that decision via the ballot box. Does anyone think the OWS protestors know that it was President Richard Nixon who on June 22, 1970 signed an extension to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requiring that 18 year olds be given the vote in all federal, state and local elections? This right was ultimately ratified by the states to become the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution at a signing ceremony held July 5, 1971. But the right to vote was not won by the draft dodgers at Woodstock, rather it was won in the rice paddies of Vietnam by draftee grunts.

But the similarities between the dreamers of Camelot generation and those of Hope & Change are interesting and illuminating. Both were inspired by a president who as a young U S Senator had gained the public’s attention through the publication of a very well ghostwritten book. JFK’s Profiles in Courage was written by Ted Sorensen, and Obama’s Dreams of My Father by Bill Ayers. Both men were young and photogenic with nice looking young families. Both could play on an unassimilated alienation from mainstream America, JFK as the Irish Catholic immigrant, Barack Obama as the son of a Black Muslim father. And both made their mark by communicating a message from their ghostwriters as if it was their own, JFK by study and a skill at extemporaneous speech, Obama with the help of a TelePrompter because he is lazy.

Both groups’ protests have been marked by traffic jams, free admittance, piling garbage, poor sanitation, music (or at least drumming) and an orgy of bathos (or should that be need-a-bathos?). And the one complaint that resonates with the broader public from the OWS protest is the need for jobs. Many of the poor pitiful protestors can’t find jobs in their chosen fields after graduating from college! Boo-Hoo! Let me tell you a real sob story.

Like the rest of my generation, I was aware of the Woodstock Festival, but I did not attend. I had a job.

As I mentioned once before, I spent the summer of 1969 working for Grumman Aerospace (nee Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp). In August 1969, we were all basking in the glow of successfully carrying men to the surface of the Moon and back home again in our gloriously successful Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), the Eagle. I was a 20 year old junior thermodynamicist, a computer literate slide rule engineer of the Apollo Generation working on the A-6E Intruder designed to provide all-weather close air support for those grunts in Vietnam. I and others had heard the call of our generation’s creed, “We chose to go to the Moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. I wasn’t just feeling sorry for my contemporaries (and more so for myself) by protesting in the mud, I was doing my best to help them in their worst hours of need. Actions speak louder than words.

Well the politicians could not find a way to fund guns and butter and space exploration, so the Apollo program was scheduled to get the budget axe. As the last hired you can guess what my hiring prospects the next year would be at graduation (Last hired, first fired?). As an added fillip, the government decided to end all draft exemptions and hold a draft lottery for 1970. No longer would a trained, somewhat experienced Apollo Generation aerospace engineer be given an occupational deferment upon graduation. So having drawn a draft number that was in line to be called late in 1970, I found employers did not want to hire me, spend money on me and then have me called away in December after they’d made an investment in me. I couldn’t get a job because I was due to be re-classified 1-A. As things turned out, Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization program ended the draft calls earlier than expected and I was not drafted.

So all I had to do was re-tool my career and turn swords into plowshares. As I previously noted, I ended up helping Ray Kroc and his engineers globalize the McDonald’s French fry. The string of jobs that sprung from that is history; teenagers who couldn’t boil water became fry cooks. Potato farmers found a huge new market, truckers carried the potatoes to the food processing plants to be cut into fries, more truckers carried them through the distribution chain to the stores, where they met the cardboard sleeves that provided employment to lumberjacks and pulp mill workers and printers who’d emblazoned them with the McDonalds’ logo. The counter clerks sold the finished assemblage to eager customers whose money flowed into the paychecks of those workers, and the coffers of the franchisees and their accountants and thence to the coffers of local, state and federal governments.

So my question to the OWS protestors is this, “Any of you still feeling sorry for yourself?” Want my advice? Get a job, any job!

P.S. That Arab Spring you are so enamored with, why do you think the 2011 Libyan Revolution began in Benghazi with calls for American air power? Could it be that the inhabitants remember Operation El Dorado Canyon, where that A-6E I had helped design in 1969 kicked Gaddafi’s butt in 1986? The Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) reads, Jamahiriyah barracks 68 hits & 2 misses, Benina airfield 60 hits, zero misses.

Guess those Libyans learned something 25 years ago! For those who don’t get the connection, the successors to those Grumman employees of long, long ago now make the Global Hawk drones. The bad guys can run but they can’t hide!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Government Gone Soft, Recalling the International Geophysical Year

In a classic example of the projection of the left, President Obama has claimed America’s manufacturing sector has gone “a little soft” when it is actually government that has gone flaccid. Let us look at the record from International Geophysical Year July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. In the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and the brutal repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, America’s government led a peaceful expansion of the world’s body of knowledge about our home planet. Two of the associated efforts of that era echo through time right up to today’s headlines. Atmospheric research and offshore drilling are outgrowths of that time period.

Given the debate about anthropogenic global warming, the actual database of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the Keeling Curve, is based on a continuous monitoring that has taken place at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1958. Al Gore would not have any slides for his PowerPoint presentation without that data. Of course global warming (Oooops, “climate change”!) enthusiasts don’t have much respect for respectable data collection what with “hiding the decline” etc. And they certainly do not wish to debate The Granularity of Climate Models. So could it be the government scientists that have gone a little soft, not the nation’s engineers?

The offshore drilling industry that reached the headlines with the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon is the direct descendent of Project Mohole. While actual drilling operations began is 1961, the work on the drill ship CUSS1 began in 1956.

CUSS1 taken from Wikipedia

My father did the design work on its dynamic positioning system that allowed the ship to drill through the Earth's crust into the Mohorovičić discontinuity, and to provide an Earth science complement to the high profile Space Race. The project was initially led by the American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC) with funding from the National Science Foundation. As the Wikipedia article notes, CUSS1 was owned by Global Marine, a company that gained a bit of notoriety for another ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer. Which under the cover story of searching for manganese nodules on the seabed recovered part of a sunken Soviet ballistic submarine, the K-129, from the floor of the Pacific Ocean in 1974. The water was more than 3 miles deep. The ship still exists and is now owned by Transocean. Of course, it is an old war horse that has largely been superceded by Modular Offshore Drilling Units (MODU) like the Deepwater Horizon.

So can you tell us once again exactly who it is that has gone a little soft?