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!”


Anonymous sirius said...

Interesting stuff.

3:46 PM  

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