No Confidence

The Wall Street Journal reports that regulators in other countries require an additional remote shutoff device for deep water wells, while the US opted for “further study” in 2003. Nobody knows if that remote control would have worked in this case, but it’s no surprise that the decision not to use these devices was justified “because they tend to be very costly.”

Read almost any report of an energy-related tragedy or disaster in the US, and you’ll find a similar statement buried somewhere. Regulatory capture like this is such a commonplace occurrence that I doubt that this story will get the play it deserves, save perhaps in other shrill blogs. And it’s telling that what discussion we’ve had about the new energy bill has focused almost entirely on cap-and-trade and other broad issues, with little or no mention of regulating extraction and production.

As much as I’d like to believe that wind farms and solar energy will provide us with lights and heat, I know that we’re going to continue extracting fossil fuels, and we’ll be building new nuclear plants. Both of these activities aren’t getting the kind of adult supervision they need, and I can’t see how that’s going to change.

168 replies
  1. 1
    demkat620 says:

    further study

    Kinda like teach the controversy, right.

    God almighty we are screwed.

  2. 2
    Kobie says:

    Deregulation, of course, is the solution to all of our problems.

    Fucking assholes, the whole lot of them.

  3. 3
    Uloborus says:

    Yeah. Why did Chernobyl happen? Because Russia skimped on the safety features.

    /Not snark

  4. 4
    aimai says:

    The figure I heard for the remote switch was a derisory half million dollars. Its unbelievable to me that the insurance companies–there were insurance companies involved, weren’t there?–didn’t demand it. There’s something hugely wrong with the entire system from risk assessment, to insurance, to technology, to government regulation. And it pisses me the fuck off. The environment and the ecology of the coastlines wasn’t the oil company’s to piss away, or to burn off. A price needs to be put on these externalities and the cost of doing business must include them. Because only when the true cost is born by the corporations will they grasp that it is in their interests to spend a little money in advance to save a ton of money later.


  5. 5
    David says:

    Cheney’s Chernobyl

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Neutron Flux says:

    Both of these activities aren’t getting the kind of adult supervision they need, and I can’t see how that’s going to change.

    Don’t know about regulation w/regard to drilling. Do know about regulation for the new generation nuclear plants. And the design, and the oversight.

    You’re wrong.

  8. 8
    Brian J says:

    I hate to be a one-horse show, but this seems to be yet another instance of limiting the amount of money some people can bring into politics would be a good idea. There will always be some influence, particularly in the form of think tanks, and there will always be some organization that argues a particular point of view in an obscure way, but it’d almost certainly be a lot easier to have an academic debate over these things if elected officials weren’t salivating over campaign contributions.

  9. 9
    Dennis G. says:


    A good name for it.

  10. 10
    jwb says:

    @Brian J: I don’t know. Locally we have fairly severe spending and fundraising rules for the city council and mayoral races. I can’t say that it’s been particularly effective at doing anything except increase the power of being an incumbent.

  11. 11
    stevie314159 says:

    You say regulation, I say Wolverines.

  12. 12
    Kobie says:

    @Brian J: Slippery slope, my friend. And if such a proposal comes from OUR side, we get accused of wanting to silence the opposition.

    Politics is the septic tank into which all of society’s ills are dumped.

  13. 13
    chopper says:

    @Dennis G.:

    or ‘chenobyl’, or something similar.

    guh. normally i’m against the whole ‘lets come up with a clever acronym’ school of political mudslinging, but this whole thing has me so fuckin pissed and sad.

  14. 14
    mistermix says:

    @Neutron Flux: Tell me why. I fully believe that the new generation nuclear plants can be very safe. I just don’t have any confidence in our regulatory system to make that happen. I can easily see industry taking a good reactor design (EPR, right?) and cutting a corner or two that is “too expensive”.

  15. 15
    Uloborus says:

    Sigh. THIS is what eight years of deregulation looks like. There’s a talking point that won’t make it into the media.

  16. 16
    Brian J says:


    Are your elections publicly funded to any significant degree? That’s probably not a totally perfect solution, either, but maybe it’s a step in the direct direction.

  17. 17
    Brian J says:


    Silence the opposition? I’m not talking about banning some actors entirely, just possibly placing an extremely firm limit on how much an individual or corporation can give to a politician or party.

  18. 18
    kay says:

    @Brian J:

    This was an agency action. Congress wrote the legislation expanding deep-water mining, in 2006, the broad outlines, and then the agency writes the regs. The whole point of agencies was that Congress are not “experts”, and there should be an administrative section to rule-write and enforce. That’s how it works at the state level too. In other words, they’re not elected. The agency heads are appointed. The underlings are career federal employees.

    The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

    This particular agency had some problems. There was a cocaine and sex scandal in 2006, for example.

    The Interior Department had some problems, too. Gale Norton ran it under Bush, and she resigned in 2006, under an Abramoff cloud. Dennis G. could tell us more about that :)

    This is where she ended up: after Norton’s resignation, she joined Royal Dutch Shell Oil company as a legal adviser.

  19. 19
    BR says:

    We need to boycott BP. It needs to go viral. It needs to start now.

    Sure it’ll be symbolic – we’ll be getting our oil elsewhere. But it’ll send a message and will focus the media back on what the oil companies do and don’t do. After Valdez, folks boycotted Exxon, and the media was forced to talk about it.

  20. 20
    Joey Maloney says:

    @David: Look, there simply wasn’t time to shoot every single Gulf Coast bird, fish, mollusc, and amphibian in the fucking face.

    Something had to be done.

  21. 21
    burnspbesq says:


    I am hopeful that public reaction to the Gulf disaster is going to move the needle on the politics of safety regulation of activities where there is no such thing as a minor accident and the probability of accidents cannot be made to equal zero except by an outright ban.

    You, apparently, are not.

    I would remind you that there was a time, not too long ago when many (if not most) of us thought health care reform was dead.

  22. 22
    ericvsthem says:

    In light of this horrible environmental tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s worth remembering that many Democrats are pushing for construction of new nuclear power plants. Hey, what could go wrong?

  23. 23
    V.O.R. says:

    Sigh. THIS is what eight years of deregulation looks like. There’s a talking point that won’t make it into the media.

    The entire problem with American politics is that sarcasm is under used.

    If Obama went before the nation and said

    “I thank God that we don’t have the regulations other nations have. A cut-off vale would have taken half a million hard-earned dollars out of BP’s hands and saved the nation a multi-billion dollar lesson it could ill afford to miss. If oil rigs can be so suddenly, and so catastrophically, lost it is imperative – *imperative* – that we have many, many more. In as many national parks as possible.

    It was a warning. We have been warned. Eleven lives were not too many to lose to have the folly of our current energy policy demonstrated. Praise the Lord, and praise deregulation.”

    I *guarantee* there’d be discussion of regulation in the media. Though I do admit there might be some less constructive discussion sparked by such a statement.

  24. 24
    Kobie says:

    @Brian J: I understand that, and I don’t disagree with you. I’m not arguing the merits of your statement, just the perception from the reactionaries who would twist it to their benefit.

    I’m on your side, amigo.

  25. 25
    wrb says:

    Are there any nuclear plant designs that are insurable in a free market?

    I looked into is some years ago and their weren’t at that time.

    Nuclear was only affordable because of government distortion of the market- through giving them a special exemption from liability in case of accident and through taking on the cost of storing waste forever.

    I suspect that if the externalities of nuclear and fossil fuels were priced accurately the market would have demanded a conversion to renewables years ago.

  26. 26
    Kobie says:

    @BR: I like the idea. I really do. However, in the US, it’s going to take some hard digging to figure out exactly where BP’s oil goes here.

  27. 27
    Brian J says:


    But the agencies outside direct legislative elections are certainly influenced by legislative elections. I don’t think there’s any doubt that things would have been slightly different over the last decade if the public elected legislators that were interested in appointing regulators who wanted to, you know, regulate.

  28. 28
    Kobie says:

    @wrb: Most likely. Nuclear, for its short-term benefits, has long-term costs that have essentially been absorbed by Washington. Wind is roundly hated by those who have to live near those eyesores, and solar is still impractical for those of modest means.

    Rock, us, hard place.

  29. 29
    Dennis G. says:


    What we need is an aggressive PRO-regulation campaign.

    Perhaps we should flood Congress with calls, angry marches and take-over town hall meetings this summer.

    From where I sit, the deregulation craze has bought nothing but pain. I can’t think of any significant area where it has work (unless you count lining the pockets of your ‘private sector’ friends with stolen money working).

    We need rules that are enforced. In China, several capitalists would have been executed by now for these kinds of massive failures. The least we could do here is toss a few into jail for a decade or two or three or four.

    I think it is time to play the blame game.


  30. 30
    Uloborus says:

    …good LORD, no. Renewables cost efficient? God DAMN.

    No, they’re not. They’re really, really not. The up-front costs are enormous, and it takes decades to make them up, and by then you have to replace the expensive, degrading equipment.

    It’s not quite as bad as I just made out, but it’s pretty bad and the only hope for renewable energy is that there’ve been huge technological advances in the last few years. Until we know which of them work, renewable energy is actually the one that only exists because of massive government support!

  31. 31
    wrb says:

    Sigh. THIS is what eight years of deregulation looks like. There’s a talking point that won’t make it into the media.

    Gotta tie the gulf and the financial meltdown together in everyone’s minds. The combination is what 30 years of deregulation looks like.

  32. 32
    rootless-e says:


    Though BP uses Jupiter, its own Guernsey-based insurance company, known as a captive, this unit may have laid off some catastrophe risk to big players in the wider re-insurance market such as Lloyd’s of London, Swiss Re or Munich Re.

    Read more:

  33. 33
    Neutron Flux says:

    @mistermix: I could give you links to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Website, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations website, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Electric Power Research Institute, but frankly that is all boilerplate public relation information.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Comission (NRC) has statutory authority thru the Code of Federal Regulation. Essentially, they (the Federal Government) own the fuel, and they license the utility to operate the plant in an envelope of rules. This is an adverserial relationship. Bad actors can the prosecuted thru both civil procedings and criminal procedings. There are always two full time inspectors assigned to each plant and have unlimited access to anything they want to look at. They probe both safety and non related systems, components, and processes. Hell, they even regulate the training of the staff.

    The new generation design is a product of everything that went wrong at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. It includes digital control and protection systems that function in ways that almost eliminate human error in that they fail in the safe direction.

    Now, is it possible for a complete culture change in the NRC? Sure. That would take years to institute, and surprisingly NOT be supported by INPO, NEI, and EPRI. The industry institutionaly understands that we do not get another TMI.

    If I have not answered your question, let me know and I will try again.

  34. 34
    jwb says:

    @Brian J: I don’t think we have public financing, but individual contributions are capped at $100. End result is that the big organizations—esp. unions, chamber of commerce, and other groups that have built-in constituencies end up with more influence than they had prior to the law.

  35. 35
    rootless-e says:

    @Uloborus: you know nothing.

  36. 36
    kay says:

    @Brian J:

    I agree. I worry a little bit about how deep this goes, though. I’d like to look at managers. The MMS scandal involved career employees.
    Partly it is and was ideology. The agency head sets the tone, like any boss.
    I worry because regulatory agencies are failing all over the place: auto safety, food safety, mine safety, finance regs, etc. I think the rot extends to career managers. Anyway, I’d like Congress to look.

  37. 37
    Kobie says:

    @rootless-e: Enlighten us, then.

  38. 38
    Brian J says:


    Oh, I know. I was just describing to you my reaction to the stupidity of the other side’s point.

    I’m not a lawyer just yet, so I can’t argue in the legal realm of things, but the idea that it’s some sort of horrible injustice to regulate political speech seems a bit nutty. All sorts of speech seems to be regulated. Nobody is proposing denying anyone the chance to write as many editorials or march in as many rallies as they wish to do so. Instead, they are proposing ways to limit one individual or organization with massive resources from buying the political process.

  39. 39
    Starfish says:

    @BR: Oil is a fungible good. That means if we are not buying from one company, we are buying from someone else. If that someone else does not have enough oil, they will buy BP’s surplus. We have not found any way to meaningfully reduce our oil consumption short of getting “right-sized” or going Galt so we do not need to make our daily work commutes. And I do not want to hear from all you folks living in a city with decent public transportation who do not have to commute outside your little urban enclave.

  40. 40
    Uloborus says:

    Yeah, I’ve kind of researched this extensively ’cause it was part of a job working for Japanese news. Even the pro-renewable experts were saying stuff like this. Now, granted I simplified. Solar power is the one best described by what I listed above (oh, and the traditional solar panels are apparently a huge toxic waste threat, although I didn’t get details), but every kind of renewable energy has some similar gigantic challenge.

  41. 41
    MikeJ says:

    @Kobie: I don’t understand the “eyesore” argument against wind. I kinda like ém. Regardless of the aesthetics though, why is this argument never made for other types of plants?

    I drove to Grays Harbor yesterday. For miles around Satsop the cooling towers of an overpriced abandoned nuke plant dominate the skyline. That plant wasn’t killed due to environmental causes but because nuclear power is way, way, way too expensive. But I’ve never heard anyone make an aesthetic argument against it.

    As far as cost for solar, prices continue to drop, and it’s already far cheaper than critics give it credit for.

  42. 42
    valdivia says:


    this a thousand times. because they can’t connect the dots between the lack of regulation under Cheney and what happened this week. assholes.

  43. 43
    Brian J says:


    I’ve wondered ever since Obama was elected if the solution was to simply clean house in a number of agencies all at once. I trust that he’d not pick hacks to replace any qualified people.

  44. 44
    BR says:


    @BR: I like the idea. I really do. However, in the US, it’s going to take some hard digging to figure out exactly where BP’s oil goes here.

    I think we should start with the obvious, get that going and then move to finding any more indirect destinations of BP’s oil. According to wikipedia, the following are BP’s retail brands:


    We can start by boycotting these.

  45. 45
    Brian J says:


    In other words, because they’d always be contributing, they are pretty much the only dependable source?

  46. 46
    jwb says:

    @MikeJ: I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who sees beauty in the wind farms. There are some truly awesome wind farms along I-10 in south Texas—turbines as far as the eye can see.

  47. 47
    Kobie says:

    @MikeJ: TBQH, I’m sure the people living in the shadows of those cooling towers simply can’t afford a nicer place to live. I’d bet (and this is a hunch) that property values in that area are somewhere between dog shit and the dog.

    EDIT: Agreed on solar, which is where I have the feeling we’ll be moving toward if our fearless leaders get their collective heads out of their collective asses.

  48. 48
    rootless-e says:

    This is a good intro to wind economics and there is illuminating debate

    Wind power has proven itself to be economically workable in spite of limitations imposed by an existing system which is designed to protect oligopolies

    Wind financing costs are the cost drivers because once running maintenance is not a big deal. But finance costs depend on all sorts of things. One could ask what the costs to the USA of using treasury funds to finance wind energy would be compared to e.g. the financial costs of avoiding the current Gulf oil fiasco or the costs of oil embargoes or military adventures in the Middle East. And you could ask whether private financing of wind was really a worse investment than, for example, Goldman-Sachs CDOs.

  49. 49
    BR says:


    @BR: Oil is a fungible good. That means if we are not buying from one company, we are buying from someone else. If that someone else does not have enough oil, they will buy BP’s surplus. We have not found any way to meaningfully reduce our oil consumption short of getting “right-sized” or going Galt so we do not need to make our daily work commutes. And I do not want to hear from all you folks living in a city with decent public transportation who do not have to commute outside your little urban enclave.

    That’s why while I know the boycott is symbolic in that we’ll get our oil elsewhere, it will force folks to think about it: it’ll make them associate the act of going to a gas station with the oil spill in the gulf. It’ll make the media think about it, and maybe even cover it if the boycott becomes widespread. This is where we start.

    Otherwise, the media will keep treating this as a political story (is this Obama’s fault, etc.) and we won’t get anywhere with it.

  50. 50
    Kobie says:

    @BR: OK, that’s a start. Thanks for the info. I’m currently in the public transit mode … :(

  51. 51
    rootless-e says:

    @jwb: those things are very beautiful.

  52. 52
    BR says:

    @BR: I like the idea. I really do. However, in the US, it’s going to take some hard digging to figure out exactly where BP’s oil goes here.

    By the way – anyone who’s big into facebook / twitter / etc. know if there’s a meme / group for Boycott BP? I don’t really use those, but it would be great if you could give the idea a little push.

  53. 53
    MikeJ says:


    Wind makes power too cheap.

  54. 54
    jwb says:

    @Brian J: Cleaning house that way is actually hard to do with career civil servants. And that difficulty is there for a good reason—but it does make it hard if the hiring in the career civil servant ranks was in fact politicized.

  55. 55
    Island in Alabama says:


    The figure I heard for the remote switch was a derisory half million dollars

    To put this in perspective, the $350,000,000+ rig was being leased for $496,800 a day (!), so that switch would have barely cost more than one day’s operation, and less than a percent of the rig’s base cost.

  56. 56
    jwb says:

    @Brian J: No, because those groups can mobilize a large constituency to vote without needing to expend campaign funds.

  57. 57
    BR says:

    I want to recommend a movie to everyone here: Collapse (directed by Chris Smith). It’s a documentary about oil and economics, and the guy who they have narrate it is interesting. (He seems nutty every once in a while, but his facts are right and his message sobering.)

    Chris Smith is the guy who directed The Yes Men, which was also awesome.;s=143441

  58. 58
    wrb says:

    Renewables cost efficient? God DAMN.
    No, they’re not. They’re really, really not.

    Then why are massive wind farms just been cleared for construction in the past week off Cape Cod and in Eastern Oregon. There are some interesting new wave power projects under construction. And this with nuclear, coal and oil and not paying their freight.

    In thinking about pricing the externalities of oil I’m including half of our military budget for securing supplies, pollution and all its health and other effects, climate change, ocean acidification etc.

    Ocean acidification is a big deal that is only now getting attention. Atmospheric carbon dissolves, forming carbonic acid. Extending the current trend line you gat an ocean too acidic for calcium structures in 15-20 years according to some research from Australia. Goodbye shellfish, shrimp, coral reefs and about 1/3rd of the tiny critters at the base of the food chain. Some worry the disruption will be so great that the remaining critters won’t be able to adapt quickly enough the oceans will effectively die. That is expensive.

    The loss of much of the Ukraine was expensive too.

    That said, I’m a cynical supporter of more reactors. I don’t believe them cost effective and have no confidence thay might not take out a city or two, but don’t see it being politically possible to move forward on reducing carbon emissions without giving the ideological and irrational anti-greens some wins.

  59. 59

    Comment on nola dot com:

    Posted by pr3449
    May 02, 2010, 9:06AM

    It never ceases to amaze me how many dumb, brain washed Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck simple minded idiots we have living in Louisiana! You are so hypocritical! You live in church, call yourself Christians and are so full of hatred, bigotry and racist attitudes that you are blinded by really smart people, and you are in denial that you hate this president because he really is 1/2 black. His mother was white. Talk about drinking the kool aid; well you drown in the Limbaugh, Fox News, Glenn Beck sick insane kool aid of your own. I am a white Christian senior citizen born and raised in southern La. during segregation and thank my God that my mother taught me not to hate people because of their color. You all should get on your knees and ask God to forgive you for the hate inside of your mean soul!

    Well said, lady!

    I am posting this to point out that not everyone in that region thinks alike. We do have allies down there.

  60. 60
    Fern says:

    @MikeJ: The eyesore argument is the least of it.

    They industrialize the rural landscape. They are loud. Really, really loud. The incessant noise is very stressful for people and animals. They have horrible negative effects on farm animals. The wind that comes out of an array of wind-thingies is stronger that the wind that went in, resulting in local climate effects that dry out the soil. They kill birds.

    Etc. and so forth.

  61. 61
    Kobie says:

    @Linda Featheringill: Thank you for that, Linda. From a proud Northeasterner.

  62. 62
    rootless-e says:

    @Island in Alabama: although, nobody knows if the remote switch works. And the main problem kinda looks like it was gross incompetence on the part of Haliburton – probably finishing up in a hurry so they could make some more electric showers in Iraq.

  63. 63
    Brian J says:


    Oh, okay.

  64. 64
    Uloborus says:

    And he doesn’t address EITHER of my arguments. Like, at all. Anywhere. He may even be pretending they don’t exist. Wind has the same benefit as solar. Once you’ve made the initial investment, you’re not using fuel and human labor costs are low, so you’re basically getting free electricity for a long, long time.

    Here’s the two problems: A) the initial investment is *still* huge. If you can pull it off, wind repays itself faster than solar, but the military installations putting it in were still conceding they were looking at well over a decade to make up the cost, and could only use it to cut power costs, not replace traditional electricity – ’cause it takes rather a lot of turbines to do something like that.

    B) Wind power is way more locational than solar power, and solar power already has problems with being locational. You can’t actually put a wind farm up anywhere, and that’s a big limitation to its usefulness.

    Now, am I saying renewables aren’t worth investing in? No. Tech improvements have already tipped things so you eventually get your money back, and in the meantime you’re not using fossil fuels. But I am saying that if you think renewable energy isn’t used because subsidies make regular energy more cost efficient – no, it’s actually the other way around.

  65. 65
    Kobie says:

    @wrb: To be fair, the conditions that caused the Chernobyl disaster are basically impossible to replicate here with our standards. To put it in perspective, the amount of radiation released by Three Mile Island (which is the worst nuclear reactor disaster in U.S. history) is less than the amount of radiation coming out of your monitor.

  66. 66
    BR says:

    Ok, I’ve written a short DKos diary for “Boycott BP” and would love some GOS support:

  67. 67
    El Cid says:

    But… but… the costs would have just been passed on to the consumers! You libruls just want to raise gas prices so high that we’ll all have to live in caves & eat home grown alfalfa!

  68. 68
    rootless-e says:

    @Fern: how exactly do they increase wind force?

    the rest of your complaint sounds like standard issue winger-science.

  69. 69
    Fern says:

    @BR: How would you know that the oil/gas/whatever you are buying comes from BP or from somewhere else?

  70. 70
    AhabTRuler says:

    Mandatory inclusion of the switch addresses people’s concerns now, although there is no indication that the switch would have helped. Therefore, added safety features make it likely that we will continue to drill at depth, leading to the likelihood that accidents like this will happen again.

    As for nukes, the NRC suffers from regulatory capture, as much or more than the SEC or FDA , as has been the case for dome time.

  71. 71
    BR says:


    @BR: How would you know that the oil/gas/whatever you are buying comes from BP or from somewhere else?

    You wouldn’t unless you were buying from a BP/ARCO/ampm.

    The point is that a widespread boycott puts the focus back on BP, on the process of oil exploration and drilling, and takes it off of the politics. Only when the media is forced to talk about issues rather than politics can meaningful progress be had.

  72. 72
    Neutron Flux says:


    The wind that comes out of an array of wind-thingies is stronger that the wind that went in,


  73. 73
    Wapiti says:

    Read almost any report of an energy-related tragedy or disaster in the US, and you’ll find a similar statement buried somewhere.

    Not only energy. Look at the US airlines blocking any requirement to lock cockpit doors during flight pre-9/11 (despite it being used successfully by the Israelis).

  74. 74
    rootless-e says:


    The points you make are not really science/economics points

    a) every type of power is characterized by large capex costs. To show wind is not economical, you need to compare ROI not just wave hands at “enormous” costs (as if e.g. nuclear plants and oil wells did not involve massive capital costs).

    b) if you actually compute externalities, then there is no competition. Add in, for example, the costs of the US military presence in the Persian Gulf to oil costs.

    c) of course wind power can’t be put in anywhere. Coal burning power plants can’t be put in anywhere. There are siting limitations on every type of power. So arguments like yours seem to be just advertising to me.

    If you want to actually learn something you could start with

  75. 75
    El Cid says:

    It’s not so much whether or not a remote triggering shutoff would have been guaranteed to work in this case, it’s the giant “fuck you, we ain’t doin’ god-damn shit” that the American people continually get both from the companies under question and the anti-regulatory regulators that has been the chic style since Reagan.

  76. 76
  77. 77
    El Cid says:

    @rootless-e: There are no such things as externalities, because, um, SHUT UP, and also Ayn Rand.

  78. 78
    Kobie says:

    @El Cid: Also. Too.

  79. 79
    MikeJ says:


    They industrialize the rural landscape.

    That is the funniest thing I’ve ever read about wind power.

  80. 80
    Neutron Flux says:

    @Kobie: I think we are in violent agreement. To do work, move the rotor with the magnets thru the stator converts the wind energy to electrical energy. The wind cannot have as much velocity at the end of the process.

    I can accept the redirection aspect tho.

  81. 81
    mistermix says:

    @Neutron Flux: So you’re saying that a post-TMI, post-Chernobyl safety culture is in place at the NRC, and that it’s reflected in the next gen reactor design. Is there a good resource that explains the new generation reactor technology, showing what’s different/better about the new design vs. the old ones?

    Is the the new design basically this:

    or is there another, better design?

  82. 82
    David says:

    Cheneybl 2010

  83. 83
    rootless-e says:

    Renewables financing is tied in very much to the oligarchic structure of banking/finance. Many of the critiques of renewables smuggle in the assumption that investment is otherwise based on rational considerations – something that the financial crisis shows to be counter-factual.

  84. 84
    rootless-e says:

    @MikeJ: nothing more destructive of pastoral bliss than, for example, a wind tower that obscures one’s view of an oil well.

  85. 85
    wrb says:


    I’m just distrustful of management and politicians taking shortcuts and ofour ability to design fail safe systems. Maybe it will all work.

    But look at the space program- there was a lot of live and learn, despite the best engineers in the world.

    Apollo 1 (oops turns out a pure oxygen environment wasn’t such a hot idea), Apollo 13, Challenger (oops, turns out there are conditions under which those O-rings fail)… who’d a thunk some chunks of foam could down a mighty ship.

    Possibly the cost-benefit of nukes is adequate.

    But back to my original point- it would be nice if the market would confirm this by being willing to insure them.

  86. 86
    rootless-e says:

    @El Cid: good point.

  87. 87
    Uloborus says:

    And according to that article… it’s too expensive to build a wind farm, so it’s better to have someone already heavily invested in energy do it, ’cause they can get easier loans. The page you point to basically makes the point that it’s easier to get loans for a traditional plant and addresses nothing else I said. The loan thing is not surprising. You make your money back faster and there’s a huge rate of renewable plants not finishing construction.

    Your false equivilancies are lovely, too.

    Your rainbow unicorn pony ain’t comin’. Corruption is not the reason we’re not running on renewable energy. Financial and technological restrictions are the reasons. That’s turning around *now*, particularly with Obama’s green energy initiatives in the stimulus, but there are big challenges, and up front costs and long term equipment degradation are the major ones.

  88. 88
    Fern says:

    Okay, I was wrong – it is the wind turbulence cause by the turbines that causes local drying of soils.

  89. 89
    rootless-e says:


    And according to that article… it’s too expensive to build a wind farm, so it’s better to have someone already heavily invested in energy do it, ‘cause they can get easier loans.

    It’s hard to see how anyone could in good faith make such a hash out of what the article actually said. What it said was that if wind financing was at rates that are used for other utility financing, it would be lower cost, however, even under existing conditions, it is cost effective.

    Capex costs for power plants are not dictated by laws of physics.

  90. 90
    Neutron Flux says:

    @mistermix: I do not know of any EPR’s under NRC review in the US.

    Site prep and intitial construction is underway for two AP-1000’s (Westinghouse design) at the VC Summer site in South Carolina. ( I was at that site last week.)

    It is my understanding that the South Texas Project is in site prep for two Advanced Boiling water designs (General Electric and Mitsubishi design).

    I could not find a link in the Wiki article that tied to the safety concerns wrt to the EPR and the AP-1000.

    I would be most interested in these.

    BTW, design and oversight are not problems with the Nuclear Industry today.

    Spent fuel and qualified staff is.

  91. 91
    rootless-e says:

    @Fern: do you have any source for that beyond winger-science web sites?

  92. 92
    Neutron Flux says:

    @mistermix: Try the NRC website, here.

    Shit, I forgetted how to insert links.

  93. 93
    kay says:


    They industrialize the rural landscape. They are loud. Really, really loud. The incessant noise is very stressful for people and animals. They have horrible negative effects on farm animals. The wind that comes out of an array of wind-thingies is stronger that the wind that went in, resulting in local climate effects that dry out the soil. They kill birds.

    I have experimental windmills visible from my town square. They’re part of a university research project. It’s flat, and they can be seen for miles. I also have huge grain storage coop facilities visible from my house, and no one complains they “industrialize the rural landscape”. There are three of them in the county. You can’t travel anywhere without spotting one of the three. They’re a warehouse for grain. Nothing pastoral about it. As for noise, there is no industry that is mechanized like agriculture. Farmers burn a lot of fuel, and they run huge machines, day and night, during planting and harvest. I don’t know why the farm animals aren’t upset about that.
    I just don’t think the pastoral-rural thing plays.

  94. 94
    wrb says:

    They industrialize the rural landscape

    The industrial horror that is Holland

  95. 95
    Kiril says:

    @El Cid: This argument always seems weird coming from libertarians, since some part of them wants to live like this anyway.

  96. 96
    Citizen_X says:


    there is no indication that the switch would have helped.

    Well, the lack of a switch has not exactly worked well in this case, now has it?

    It would have been a second backup system, in a situation where they have, instead, ended up with no way to stop the oil flowing. Norway and Brazil have been installing and improving the switches for years, and while they haven’t been tested in a real-life case, they haven’t made their operations uneconomic/unprofitable, either.

    added safety features make it likely that we will continue to drill at depth

    We will continue to drill at depth, so it needs to be strictly regulated. But we will keep drilling, regardless, because there’s nowhere else left to get oil, and our oil consumption keeps rising.

    We have drilled the sedimentary rocks of the world (where the oil is found), and now we have reached their limits: at the edge of the continental rise. At some point within the next decade or so oil production will start decreasing. That is peak oil. In addition, coal and natural gas, despite what you may have heard, will not last much beyond this century.

    The economics of renewables, that people are arguing about above, are improving, but even with massive government subsidization we are going to transition to a post-fossil-fuel world slowly. By any path, we are going to be using deep-sea oil, like it or not.

  97. 97
    cleter says:

    All forms of power generation industrialize the rural landscape, and are noisy. I’ve done a bunch of environmental surveys for power plant projects, and those were all in the rural countryside. You don’t build a coal fired plant downtown.

  98. 98
    scav says:


    @Fern They industrialize the rural landscape

    The industrial horror that is Holland

    Not to mention the industrial horror of the south of France where I vacation among the windmills and vineyards. The incessant clatter doesn’t seem to drown out the church-bells from the village 3 km away if I’m out walking at sunset. Village dog near the Restobar seems pretty tranquil. The freaking fighter jets overhead we’ve got to do something about though.

    And McMansions pollute the rural landscape and we’ve been planting those at speed all over the croplands. But, then again, do you really think the rural landscape is a terrarium run for the watching public from elsewhere?

  99. 99
    gbear says:

    Another benefit of windpower is that if a windmill has a catastrophic malfunction, thousands of animals don’t die.

  100. 100
    chrome agnomen says:

    Too big to not fail !!!

  101. 101
    jwb says:

    @kay: “I just don’t think the pastoral-rural thing plays.”

    Especially since the farmers want the turbines on their land—and I’m not talking about the giant corporate farms here, I’m talking about the locals with their farm animals and everything.

  102. 102
    Bill H says:

    The Friday before the Chargers lost to the Jets, Chargers players were nightclubbing in downtown San Diego. (Bear with me, this is about the oil disaster.) Accusations were made that it led to their defeat, and sportswriters all agreed that the accusation was nonsense. “With Saturday to recover,” they claimed, “the players were no longer hung over.” The larger point was that the nightclubbing revealed a casual attidude by the players, that they did not take the Jets seriously.

    Now to the oil disaster. The evidence is that the blowout preventer failed; that it closed only partially. That would seem to mean that the lack of an acoustic backup device was not relevant, in that lack of activation of the blowout preventer was not the problem. However, the absence of that device indicates a casual attitude toward the safety of its employees and the environment that is highly suggestive.

    Their defense would be so much easier if they could say, ““look, we had every available safety device and procedure.”

  103. 103
    slippy says:


    They industrialize the rural landscape. They are loud. Really, really loud. The incessant noise is very stressful

    Huh. The wind farm I observed along I-70 in Kansas a couple years back didn’t make enough noise to be heard at the highway. I stopped the car and got out to take several photos. Not only that but they were something like 200 feet tall . . . any sound they made would have to be REALLY damn loud to carry very far.

    On the other hand, the diesel trucks roaring down the highway were quite audible.

    And before the inevitable right-wing nonsense stuttering moronocity of a talking point emerges that “Gosh golly, even the Sierra Club opposes these wind farms because they kill birds,” I suppose I should just shut that tired old argument down also.

    How much do you get from BP to post this kind of horseshit on blogs?

  104. 104
    James K. Polk, Esq. says:

    BP has not said how much oil is beneath the seabed Deepwater Horizon was tapping. A company official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels a frightening prospect to many.


    Are we witnessing the end of the world as we know it?

  105. 105
    Folderol and Ephemera says:

    They industrialize the rural landscape.

    Electrical transmission lines industrialize the rural landscape! Down with electricity!

  106. 106
    mistermix says:

    @Neutron Flux: Thanks!

  107. 107
    kay says:


    Farmers here have them. Smaller personal models. They’re mechanics, farmers, basically. They have to be. It figures they’d be building them.

  108. 108

    […] Europe offers better healthcare, but they also do a better job with offshore drilling requirements. Mistermix at Balloon Juice: The Wall Street Journal reports that regulators in other countries require an additional remote […]

  109. 109
    TJ says:

    Numbers I found in 2005 for power plant investment costs

    Gas $500/kw
    Wind $1500/kw onshore $2500/kw offshore
    Steam(oil or coal) $1500/kw
    Nuclear $3000-4000/kw

    The new nuke designs are predicted to be about $2000/kw, but considering who’s doing the predicting that’s probably a lowball. Now there are bigger turbines available so wind is probably lower than the above. Wind of course has a capacity factor depending on where it is.

  110. 110
    Lupin says:

    The industrial nightmare that is the “eoliennes” (windmills) in the South of France near where we live.


    Squint harder. It’s those little sticks on top of the hill in the distance.

  111. 111
    slippy says:

    @Fern: Also, SPECIFICALLY in reference to “industrializing” the rural landscape, how would wind farms do more industrializing than the HUNDREDS, possibly THOUSANDS of oil derricks that already dot the Kansas landscape just to give an example? I have photos I will produce if you don’t believe me.

    I mean, these arguments don’t just border on stupid, they give land grants to it and financial incentives for stupid to settle down.

  112. 112
    Mike in NC says:

    I worked on the ESBWR project at GE Hitachi for most of 2008. Even in a good economy, and with the NRC being the bureaucracy that it is, things moved forward at a snail’s pace. Then the economy crashed, the investors pulled out, and most of us lost our jobs. Recovery will take years.

  113. 113
    Brachiator says:

    The Wall Street Journal reports that regulators in other countries require an additional remote shutoff device for deep water wells, while the US opted for “further study” in 2003.

    Still, other countries have problems with potential oil spills and. ironically enough, BP is behind some of the problems. Let’s look at a hot off the web Guardian UK story (BP and Shell ‘not meeting safety standards on North Sea oil rigs’):

    BP and other oil companies operating in the North Sea have been warned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that they are failing to operate rigs and other offshore equipment to appropriate standards, documents show….

    The notices are all listed on relevant section of the HSE website alongside other warnings, such as one posted on the 6 April which calls on all North Sea operators to check the pipeline emergency shut-down valves (ESDV) that were made mandatory after Lord Cullen’s investigation into the Piper Alpha platform fire in which 167 workers lost their lives. The HSE says the risk assessment follows the failure of an emergency shut-down valve and says “other ESDVs have been found to be at risk of failing in this manner”.

    And despite the massive profits of the oil companies, some of the problems here have been made worse by layoffs and pay cuts. And there is also the effect of the credit crunch caused by the financial sector meltdown:

    But the OILC also argued that safety had been compromised after operators slashed pay for drill rig workers by up to a fifth last year, in response to oil prices of less than $35 a barrel last January. Many smaller operators, who dominate the North Sea, also struggled to secure bank finances for their activities.

    There are no easy answers here, and it’s tough to say that Europe is consistently doing better than the US in efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophes.

  114. 114
    Matt says:

    Y’all are missing Fern’s “The wind that comes out of an array of wind-thingies is stronger that the wind that went in”. Why aren’t we using that wind to get even more power, ad inifinium?

  115. 115
    AhabTRuler says:


    It would have been a second backup system,

    Wrong. The backup system is that there are controls for closing the BOP on the drill floor, in the rig control room, and on the BOP at the wellhead. The aucostic switch offers no additional functionality that hasn’t already been attempted. It is the BOP that has failed, not the switches. You can add a thousand for switches, triggers and ASDs, if the actual valve itself doesn’t function, then you are still in the same place.

    My point is to not fool yourself: the choice is between drill and risk spills like this or don’t drill. Don’t pretend that there is some level of redundancy or safety oversight that is going to eliminate risk. It cannot be done.

  116. 116
  117. 117
    slippy says:

    @Matt: Because like everything else Fern has stated about wind, it is fucking ridiculous.

  118. 118
    Kirk Spencer says:

    The Princeton model that found wind turbine turbulence would damage the soil has been found to be overstating the case. The problem exists but not as severely as modeled.

    The biggest reason for the difference is that the Princeton model was based on open soil. Not grass, not orchard, not even cropland as found in corn.

    Some of the positives that have been found to go along with the negatives are:
    — that the turbines provide a windbreak, knocking off five to 8 mph from winds.
    — that the turbulence has a mild warming effect — some fruit trees have been protected from early freezes.
    — that the turbulence makes crops grow better as they get more CO2. That needs explained. Corn (among other crops) eats through the CO2, and through the day there is a slight decrease in concentration in the crops themselves. Incidentally that’s why walking through the crops in the afternoon can be a bit refreshing — you’ve got a slight boost in oxygen. Anyway, the turbulence stirs this up and balances the concentration.
    — that drying effect isn’t all bad. Among crops, dew that’s dried off means lower pest rates.

    The Princeton-Duke model showed an average ground-level effect of ~+4F temperature at dawn and ~2mm additional evaporation over the day with most (didn’t read the full details so can’t measure) happening around dawn as well. Field tests have given results of about half that. And as already noted, especially for irrigation crops all that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Next objection?

  119. 119

    Just to add to slippy’s point, my grandparents spent a lot of time in west texas, and I grew up on the gulf coast watching oil rigs be constructed in the middle of nowhere. i drove back a couple of thanksgivings ago, and the windfarms are actually an improvement over the praying mantis derricks.

  120. 120
    Brandon says:

    Am I the only one who wonders what free market solutions John Stossel believes could have prevented this oil spill?

  121. 121
    scav says:


    You mean the France that derives ~75% of their energy from nuclear?

    And they still don’t ignore wind. Look for simplistic answers to complex issues much?

  122. 122
    AhabTRuler says:

    @AhabTRuler: The most important point is that there is not and cannot be a backup for the actual device that failed (there are several hydraulic valves on the BOP itself, with some degree of redundancy). The BOP is a piece of critical infrastructure, but because of its singular role and the degree of interactive complexity, it is the likely location of a common mode failure.

    One speculated cause for failure is that the blowout, and the resultant expansion of natural gas, resulted in the freezing of the BOP valves (Ideal Gas Law) which rendered them useless (CMF is that the outlet for drilling materials was also the location of all of the critical safety devices and controls for stemming the flow of material).

    The only way we can have a realistic conversation about energy and environmental policy is if we are honest about the risks involved. And pretending that we can design some level of safety oversight or redundant systems that will eliminate the dangers of deep-sea drilling is disingenuous in the extreme.

    The key question is not how lax or vigilant the company was: there are always safety practices that can be improved, and many become clear in hindsight. That, after all, is human nature.

    However, I can construct numerous scenarios that get us to where we are, and few of them involve the acoustic switch and many would not be addressed by even robust safety protocols. What if the rig had sunk directly on top of the BOP and physically damaged it? Then, even if the valves had sealed, we would still have the same problem and no solutions. A NBC event could disable the crew and prevent responders from getting close enough to actuate safety devices. Any accident that violated the integrity of the well below the BOP would be similarly uncontrollable. Admittedly, each of these scenarios is going to be extraordinarily unlikely and rare. But how rare is rare enough we you are discussing devastation on this level?

    And the last point is that the constraint that makes this a critical flaw is depth and depth alone. Blow-outs, whether caused by lax safety, operator error, or just bad luck, are entirely understood animals. Oil spills, big or small, are well understood. On land or in shallow water, containment wouldn’t really be an issue, and there are well known contingency plans. But darkness, pressure, and the limitations of ROVs and minisubs, amongst other considerations, limit the options dreadfully.

  123. 123
    AhabTRuler says:


    Look for simplistic answers to complex issues much?

    No, I don’t. Assume much?

    I support strongly the pursuit of renewable sources of energy, including wind, solar, waves, whatever works. But any real effort to move away from fossils in the near term is going to cost, and cost a great deal, and I don’t really believe that America is prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.
    I wasn’t trying to argue, but any discussion of France’s energy policy must recognize that France get three-bloody-quarter of its power from nuclear power.

  124. 124
    Neutron Flux says:

    @mistermix: No prob.

    BTW, I like your stuff.

  125. 125
    Citizen_X says:


    It is the BOP that has failed, not the switches.

    Is that known to be true, with as much certainty as you seem to have, about something happening under a mile of water?

    This report (two days old by now) claims that the manual controls on the rig were not activated, or did not activate, for whatever reason. The people who should have done so are dead. The rig had a deadman switch, which is supposed to activate the blowout preventer if communication along the drill stem is lost. This failed as well. Without that, they are limited to using subs, which have failed so far:

    Unmanned submarines that arrived hours after the explosion have been unable to activate the shut-off valve [my emphasis]

    The acoustic switches would have been a second backup to the deadman. I was calling for redundant safety systems to reduce risk, not eliminate it. Sheesh.

  126. 126
    scav says:

    @AhabTRuler: Because nobody is correct on anything until they are correct about everything? Jeysus, I’m willing to be a pot but man up kettle.

    I attempt to make a simple point about the effect of windmills on landscapes and suddenly you go apeshit about the entire energy policy of an entire nation.

  127. 127
    AhabTRuler says:

    @Citizen_X: No, the acoustic switch activates the same system as the switches on the rig and on the stack itself on the seabed.

    I don’t think that the acoustic switches shouldn’t be mandated, as $500 k is a small investment in the grand scheme. But people should be aware that it is not certain, but still highly likely that the inclusion of yet another set of redundant switches would not have changed the outcome.

  128. 128
    Citizen_X says:

    @AhabTRuler: I agree completely that the depth increases the risks geometrically. My point is that we–the U.S. and the rest of the world–are not far enough along the renewables/energy efficiency/nuclear path to avoid exploiting deep ocean oil. As you mention, we need to face the need to make sacrifices. Screwing up two oceans is a big sacrifice. Maybe it can finally spur us to look at our options seriously, and I mean more seriously than “drill, baby, drill.”

  129. 129
    AhabTRuler says:

    @scav: I am not trying to argue that you are incorrect about anything or everything, and I am sorry that you took my response to you to be argumentative or disrespectful.

    Good day and cheers!

  130. 130
    AhabTRuler says:

    Maybe it can finally spur us to look at our options seriously, and I mean more seriously than “drill, baby, drill.”

    I agree wholeheartedly, I just am wary. I have watched or society evade the difficult questions time after time, and I think focusing too closely on the acoustic switch feeds into that tendency.

    We love and depend on our technology, even when it fails us, but we are terrible at understanding the human condition, at least in an institutional sense.

  131. 131
    rootless-e says:

    @AhabTRuler: what’s the “highly likely” based on?

  132. 132
    Citizen_X says:

    @AhabTRuler: Fair enough.

  133. 133
    AhabTRuler says:

    @rootless-e: Based on the reports that the ROVs have been unable to close the BOP using the controls on the BOP itself.

    Good sources:


  134. 134
    AhabTRuler says:

    @rootless-e: Based on the reports that the ROVs have been unable to close the BOP using the controls on the BOP itself.

    Good sources:


  135. 135
  136. 136
    burnspbesq says:


    Capex costs for power plants are not dictated by laws of physics.

    Then what, pray tell, does dictate?

    Wow. You’ve said some stupid shit on this site from time to time, but that has to be the all-time stupidest.

  137. 137
    wrb says:

    from another page on the second site Ahab linkedto above

    Check this quote taken verbatim from another forum dedicated to the industry
    In what stands to be one of the biggest oil spills in the history of the United States, the possible cause of the spill now appears to be an unauthorized modification of the blow out prevention (BOP) valve. BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded and sank off the cost of Louisiana last week. Eleven rig workers are missing, which was operated by Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, the largest independent driller in the world. Meanwhile, the BOP failed to stop the flow of oil as it should have after the explosion and every day 200,000 gallons is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Fingers are being pointed at BP, even though Transocean was the sub-contractor. New evidence shows BP will eventually be exonerated. But first we will all have to play a game of cover our asses. From the subcontractor who reportedly modified the BOP without the knowledge or permission of BP, to the government regulators who okayed the modified BOP, to the Obama administration who wants to look tough on BP even thought the company had no culpability, everyone but BP is running for cover. Internal records show that Cameron built the BOP and delivered it to Transocean. Before the BOP was put into service, it was reportedly altered by Transocean with no modification approval or notes. The BOP was then installed, and the modifications are assumed to have prevented the part from operating properly.These modifications were discovered by remote operated vehicles, whose pictures transmitted to engineers trying to establish why the BPO didn’t activate, showed the part had been altered. Yesterday, top BP executives met with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the U.S. Coast Guard and told them about the tampered BOP and the fact that BP had no knowledge the device had been altered. Menahwile back in D.C., in an effort to boost his sagging approval ratings, President Barack Obama is trying to make this into political theatre while his people know this was not BP’s fault. The slow leak of information to the media about the history of the rig and the health and safety record is an attempt to shift blame away from the agency’s who regulated the rig, to the operator. Everyone is trying to cover their own ass. BP continues to work around the clock and continues to re-assign people to the region to assist with the needs of locals. Lets hope we can get to the bottom of why Transocean modified the part, if they did, and why Federal regulators signed off on a BOP that failed to stop the flow of oil.

  138. 138
    Three-nineteen says:


    In the pharmaceutical/medical device industry, if you hire someone to do something for you and they screw it up, the US government still blames you for it. If it kills people, up “being blamed” to “royally screwed”. Of course, Big Pharm is much more evil than Big Oil at the moment, so that may not translate to the oil industry.

  139. 139
    wrb says:


    That sure was a whine, wasn’t it?

    What I find most interesting was the way it comments on the possibility of engineering/regulating our way to safety.

    If it is accurate, the fuckers deliberately ignored the regulation and freelanced the approved engineering.

    Now, a cozy relationship with the regulators might have contributed. If they knew they’d face a corporate death penalty if they even tried such a thing, they might have been inhibited.

  140. 140
    Nellcote says:

    Properly weatherizing buildings would put a huge dent in our power needs. Plant (Hemp! not corn) based bio-fuels would put a dent in our needs for oil based fuels. Solar fueled steam plants would help. Methane ‘wells’ in landfills would help. My point is that there is no silver bullet but appropriate new technologies that will be useful in different locations. We can minimize our needs for more oil and nukes. It’s a start.

  141. 141
    rootless-e says:

    @burnspbesq: well, if you bothered to read the article I linked to, you’d see that they depend on who is financing.

    And if you bothered to read above, I pointed out that the costs t the government of providing financing at treasury rates or below are well outweighed by public benefits.

    And, more fundamentally, private finance costs are a function of the structure of the financial industry, tax laws, laws governing fiduciary responsibility, and so on.

    Apologists for olgilipoly want to conflate what is with what must be.

  142. 142
    AhabTRuler says:

    Here is an interesting document from a previous accident. From the abstract:

    In May of 2003 a drilling riser break at a BP development well in 6015 feet (1875 m) of water in the Gulf of Mexico initiated a dialog between BP responders and NOAA/HAZMAT modelers about the potential consequences of a deep well blowout.
    Human health and safety issues were the key concern for BP responders, particularly those planning potential on water operations. Where might the gas surface? Would the natural gas (propane and methane) at the water’s surface pose an explosion or asphyxiation hazard? Was there a potential for the gas bubbles to sink any of the response vessels? These discussions did not have as cut-and-dry answers as either BP or NOAA would have preferred.

    and from the body:

    When the drilling riser snapped, the Blow Out Preventer’s (BOP’s) “dead-man” controls functioned as planned: shearing the drill string and stopping the well from flowing. No one was hurt, and the well was secure, but the initial scene was daunting. Two thousand feet of riser lay scattered on the seafloor, another 3,000 feet of pipe was still attached to the drillship, and another 1,000 feet of riser was simply dangling–ready to fall on the BOPs. The top connector of the BOP was damaged, with one joint leaning against the BOP, dangerously close to the control lines.

  143. 143
    rootless-e says:

    @wrb: on the theory that subcontracting wipes away liability!

  144. 144
    rootless-e says:

    @AhabTRuler: I don’t see how that tells you much: after tons of metal wreckage fell around the site, hours of high speed abrasion, and other damage, robot subs working in near darkness, remotely, fail to either properly engage controls or the controls don’t work.

  145. 145
    wrb says:


    Yea, why doesn’t that work for homebuilders!?

  146. 146
    Three-nineteen says:


    I know – it’s almost as if they deliberately tried an end-around to the regs and now that all hell’s breaking loose trying to pass the blame off on someone else, all the while whining because they don’t think they’re going to get away with it. But no major corporation would ever try that, right – being the solid corporate US citizens that they are? Must be because it’s BRITISH Petroleum.

  147. 147
    AhabTRuler says:

    @rootless-e: First, ROVs were attempting to close the valves within a few hours of the fire breaking out, and there was no extensive debris until after the rig sank. The crimps in the drill string attached to the BOP are due to the force of the rig on the pipe itself as the rig sank. Second, abrasion damage would only matter if the shear rams had partially deployed, and if they were prevented from closing all the way, then another switch would not have helped. Third, we have these things called light bulbs, to allow us to see in the dark. And fourth, if the controls don’t work, how does the addition of another switch help? They work the same goddamn equipment.

    That said, although we still don’t know why the BOP didn’t close, it didn’t close, and we need to be honest about why that might have happened and how likely the various causes might be. If you read the paper I linked to above, you might see that the likelihood of a uncontrolled oil leak at depth is greater than many would like to recognize, and not all of the causes can be addressed by regulation, oversight, and automatic safety devices.

  148. 148
    rootless-e says:

    @AhabTRuler: that is one amazing photo -not what I imagined from http://www.glossary.oilfield.s.....cfm?ID=300

    i agree that there are no foolproof methods and that deepwater drilling is inherently risky. Note that different rules might have forced development of different technology. But I don’t see any ruling out of the possibility that prompt use of the coupler might have saved the day.

  149. 149
    AhabTRuler says:


    Note that different rules might have forced development of different technology.

    I don’t disagree at all, but will also point out that as new, ‘safer’ technologies are implemented, this almost invariably results in a redefinition of what is considered ‘safe’ production levels, and then it all keeps going around in circles.

  150. 150
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    Great to see someone has done some research here. Enjoying reading your entirely reasonable analysis.

    The gCaptain forums are a great source of information, and I have been following them from the beginning of this event (my son is a professional mariner so I have an interest). In fact, it’s chilling and rather heartbreaking to read the first posts reporting the fire just hours after it started … made from a nearby rig.

    From what I glean from the discussion, there are questions about the efficacy of the remote device in any case. Not just because it’s never been tested in real-life situation or at that depth, but because of potential problems such as “shadowing” with the sonar. As you say, nothing is failsafe.

    I also notice there’s some discussion that the BOP might have been jammed or damaged by massive amounts of sand and like debris brought up during the blowout.

    Here’s another interesting article about possible causes of the blowout:

    DWH: A Failure of Well Control

  151. 151
    AhabTRuler says:

    @Zuzu’s Petals: Thanks! You pointed me in the direction of the gCaptain forum, and your other links have been very helpful.

    I hope your son is doing ok (you mentioned he knew some of the men killed, IIRC); at the core of this disaster is still a tragedy for the families and friends of the workers who died.

  152. 152
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Re the post topic.

    I don’t think it was a failure of regulation. If that were the case, we would have seen many more accidents and oil spills over the last several years…especially given that there are nearly 4,000 rigs operating in the GoM.

    The blowout may or may not have been caused by human error. The spill was caused by the failure of a piece of equipment, a piece of equipment that is tested a minimum of every two weeks. Rigs like the DWH have a team of subsea engineers whose only job is to ensure that the system is functioning correctly – among other things they work off a maintenance database that is connected to the onshore office and is audited regularly. It’s just hard to believe the equipment would fail so completely under anything but catastrophic conditions.

  153. 153
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    Thanks for your concern….my son is fine, working for another company in Brazil now. Yes, he knew six of the men killed so it feels pretty personal that way.

    As hard as it is to read about the event, it’s exasperating to see how much bad information is circulating out there. No question that there are decisions to be made as a result of this disaster – and it is a disaster – but they need to be based in reality.

    As an aside, my son has solar panels on his new house and thinks folks should drive hybrids (or clean diesel). He also looks forward to the day the American maritime industry will not have to depend so much on the oil industry for its existence, but that’s another post.

  154. 154
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    PS, I feel like a dope. I see you’d already linked to the Newsvine article. Interesting though, huh?

  155. 155
  156. 156

    Another post from nola dot com:

    Posted by SandySays
    May 02, 2010, 12:42PM

    The BP drilling disaster is so similar to the Titanic disaster in that there was no emergency plan. Everyone who has watched the 1997 Titanic movie was shocked that there was NO PLAN.
    So it’s surprising how little fuss is being made that British Petroleum had no plan.

  157. 157
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    Then there’s this response at the same site:

    I think this is a red herring, probably the first of many that will appear as the legal teams build their cases……………………
    The story says “modification” but reads “short cut”. As a point of fact, modifications are made all the time to rig systems. They are just like any other piece of industrial equipment. Service bulletins are issued by the manufacturer on a regular basis to recommend improvements, or increase safety or to fix newly discovered flaws. Subsea BOP stacks are multi-million dollar systems that span the technology spectrum from huge iron castings to fiberoptic systems. No single manufacturer provides all of these, and as with other products, multiple manufacturers provide a selection to choose from. When Cameron builds a stack they go to their suppliers just like everyone else. …………………………………………………………………………………….
    A rig like the Horizon has a team of subsea engineers whose sole job is to keep this system in good functional condition. They have a computerized database and preventative/periodic maintenance system that dictates what has to be done routinely – this system automatically connects by satellite with the home office and is subject to regular audit. ……………………………………………………………………..
    Then they have a whole system of checks that are performed whenever the stack is dry, to ensure it remains in top shape. To have to recover the BOP’s in order to repair them costs days – think of days, at about $1,000,000 per day expense of operation to BP, half of that being the rig’s dayrate. Pre-emptive maintenance becomes very economical and crucially important when you look at it this way. BP will put the rig on $0 downtime if they have chronic BOP problems, until they’re corrected. ……………………………………………….
    It’s unlikely that they would run a defective system or one that had been modified in a way that compromised operational integrity – it would just be too costly.

  158. 158
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    Uhm, are you saying BP had no plan? No plan for what?

  159. 159
    slippy says:

    @Zuzu’s Petals: Did you calculate these probabilities with numbers pulled out of your ass or where?

    A failure of regulation is that there SHOULD have been safety features mandated for the BP well, and there SHOULD have been some kind of standard for how those safety features operated, but instead we simply let the “market” decide that those safety features were irrelevant.

    So in regards to your purely bullshine speculation that we would have seen “many more” failures, all I can say is up until this point we have, as the evidence has shown, been lucky enough that nothing this disastrous has occurred. Regulations would have ensured that THIS disaster could be contained, but since there were none and nobody wanted to hold the poor oil companies responsible for paying for their own safety features, we are now paying for a lack of regulation.

    Is there a banner ad for fucking stupid pills on BJ that I am missing, or should I be once again asking if you are cashing a check from the oil industry to post this kind of complete and utter balderdash all over the Internet in a pathetic attempt to fend off the massive regulatory smack-down that the public most assuredly would like to happen to prevent our coastlines from being drenched in toxic poisons YET AGAIN.

  160. 160
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    Thanks for the civil response.

    What regulations are you talking about specifically? Because the post suggested that if an acoustic remote controlled device had been required, the spill might have been prevented. As Ahab has pointed out in detail, there is zero evidence that that is so.

  161. 161
    Comrade Kevin says:

    @Zuzu’s Petals: Not having one sure worked out well, didn’t it?

  162. 162
    Mr Furious says:


    They industrialize poison the rural land oceanscape. The incessant noise toxicity and suffocation is very stressful deadly for people and animals. They have horrible negative effects on farmwild animals. The wind toxic sludge that comes out of an array of wind-thingies a rig, tanker, etc is stronger that the wind that went in more poisonous than clean water, resulting in local climate effects that dry out the soil kill the fuck out of everything for generations.

  163. 163
    Mr Furious says:

    @Zuzu’s Petals:

    there is zero evidence that that is so.

    There is infinite evidence that it didn’t cause this disaster. Positing that it wouldn’t have worked is far more disingenuous that the hypothetical that it might have helped.

  164. 164
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @Mr Furious:

    I suggest you go back and read some of Ahab’s detailed comments on this topic, or read the discussion at the professional mariners’ site he linked to. I’m not sure you understand the issue.

    Let me put it this way. If a robot physically turning the switch at the seabed site will not activate the BOP, how do you imagine flipping the switch by remote from a boat is going to be an improvement?

  165. 165
    burnspbesq says:


    Dumbass, the biggest determinant of the cost of a capital project isn’t debt service, it’s the cost of the asset. And in power generation, that is first and foremost an engineering question.

    Surely you know this. Which leads me to wonder what your agenda is.

  166. 166
    burnspbesq says:


    Apologists for olgilipoly want to conflate what is with what must be.

    Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

  167. 167
    slippy says:

    @Zuzu’s Petals: Your statement was that “regulations” would not have made a difference. That the “regulation-free” environment seems to have worked out so well for us, and that we should have expected LOTS more events like this if regulations made a difference. I’m sorry you didn’t make the argument that you wanted to make, but instead made the idiotic one that you did make. You deserved all the thoughtfulness that you put into your argument in response.

    I would like to point out that since we can’t re-play this event, there is also ZERO evidence supporting your assertion.

    You know. It kind of cuts both ways. My hostility is to the unstated assumption that the “market” could possibly solve this problem.

    There is also ZERO evidence that this is so. Bottom line: regulate the living shit out of this industry, and make them pay, pay, pay for this mistake.

  168. 168
    Zuzu's Petals says:


    Actually, I said that I didn’t see this as a failure of regulation in the way that the post suggested. I said nothing about a “regulation-free” environment working out so well for us, but thanks for putting words in my mouth and then positing your own assumptions that I assume anything whatsoever about the “martket” solving this problem.

    I notice however that you did not answer my question: exactly what regulations do you think would have prevented this event specifically? I’m actually interested to know.

    But at least you admit that your response was thoughtless.

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