The long-view on the Gulf Oil Spill

Scientists Dispute Government Stance on the Lingering Effects of Gulf Oil. ProPublica,  August 17, 2010.

…scientists seemed, on the whole, rather skeptical when a government report said most of the oil from BP’s well was gone from the Gulf of Mexico. [1] Now the pushback against the government’s stance has grown, with several scientific reports released this week.

Restoring the Gulf. editorial in NY Times, August 18.  Note: this author commented more than a  month ago on this blog that the job Mr. Mabus was assigned is not a part-time position.

More on the flooding in Pakistan

From the Christian Science Monitor, August 19 – Pakistan floods: Why aid is so slow compared to Haiti earthquake.

Pakistan floods have displaced 4 million people, but aid to the country has been at a trickle compared to other catastrophes, such as the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake.

Why America needs to ramp up aid to Pakistan. August 17. Foreign

More people have been affected by Pakistan’s catastrophic floods than any other natural disaster on record — over 20 million and counting. That’s more than were affected by the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and this year’s earthquake in Haiti combined.  As millions of dislocated Pakistanis search for shelter and food and as health conditions deteriorate and disease spreads, the need for an immediate, large-scale humanitarian response is urgent.  And this is just the beginning.  Once the floodwaters subside from Pakistan’s swollen rivers, the task of rebuilding will be staggering – with a price tag in the billions, and lasting for years to come.  The effectiveness of the response to these relief and rebuilding challenges will have serious implications for the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, for the peace and stability of Pakistan and the entire South Asian region, and for U.S. national security.

Fires in Russia — classic failure of public management of emergencies

In the Russian wildfires, will Putin get burned? Wash. Post, August 15.

This response has been so appalling in its ineptitude that it invites comparisons to past disasters. Is this like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster? Or is it more like Hurricane Katrina in 2005? Politically speaking, it should be even worse than Katrina. For one thing, a good part of Russia’s catastrophe has unfolded in the nation’s capital, not in a far-off region such as the Gulf Coast. And these fires are burning with Russia’s 2012 presidential elections on the horizon….

The current crisis should expose and discredit the Russian government at its most incompetent and should permanently taint those in charge. Of course, this doesn’t mean it will: Russia’s government is not a government of the people, but of the well-connected. Its citizens haven’t expected much of their leaders, even before the fires. * * * But if the events of the past month haven’t started a political conflagration, they do seem to be fanning a long-smoldering public distrust of the government. And fires can be unpredictable.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bears direct responsibility for the dysfunctional system that set the stage for disaster: Legislation that came into effect in 2007, when he was president, turned forest management over to poorly equipped local authorities and to companies that manufacture paper and related products. Oligarchs close to the Kremlin allegedly lobbied for the law, which decimated the forest ranger corps and left Russia ill-prepared for today’s calamity.

The poor response to the fires will further widen the chasm separating the nation’s authorities from society.

Basic tenets of public administration apply, whatever the country.  Rules of thumb regarding governance also apply, two of which are pre-disaster trends usually continue post-disaster and weak public management prior to a disaster typically deteriorates post-disaster.

Oil Spill Disaster – Day 100 – issues re science research

The issue of the sharing of scientific findings is discussed in the July 27 in a Washington Post opinion piece titled Research on gulf oil spill shouldn’t take a backseat to litigation. Plus the article raises a new topic, that of the need for a comprehensive and strategic look at the research needed for such a major disaster event; I would argue both hard science and social science research should be included in such a comprehensive plan.

Our nation needs a comprehensive science plan to learn from and respond better to this tragedy. Those working in academia, federal and state government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry need to be consulted and included. The federal government must also make funding available, apart from the NRDA process, to enable independent, peer-reviewed science to be undertaken.

Also related to the topic is a recent statement by the American Assoc. of University Professors regard BP’s impact on academic freedom following the Gulf oil spill. See attached file titled  ACADEMIC FREEDOM.  One quote from that statement follows:

Perhaps this is the time to reexamine the increasing role corporations are playing in funding and controlling university research. Universities should work with faculty to set ethical standards for industry collaboration that champion the public interest and discourage faculty members from selling their freedom of speech and research to the highest bidder.

Thanks to Bill Cumming for bringing this statement to my attention. It is a timely addition to the topic discussed in today’s post.

CNN has posted an interesting summary of the effects, on the 100 day anniversary of the spill. See this article. And CNN also has posted some dramatic graphics of the spill since day 1.

Oil Spill Disaster – July 26- Hearings reveal a litany of problems

Once again, we are getting the message that a series of Risky Decisions Led to Oil Spill. July 25, Wash. Post.

The calamity, the evidence now suggests, was not an accident in the sense of a single unlucky or freak event, but rather an engineered catastrophe — one that followed naturally from decisions of BP managers and other oil company workers on the now-sunken rig.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster can be attributed to “an organizational culture and incentives that encourage cost-cutting and cutting of corners — that reward workers for doing it faster and cheaper, but not better,” an academic advisory panel of scientists, chaired by Univ. of CA/Berkeley professor Robert Bea,…. “We know that in a very large number of cases, the seeds for failure are sown very early in the life of a particular system — during the concept development and design phases (e.g. the design of the Macondo well). These seeds are then allowed to flourish during the operation and maintenance phases, and, with the system in a weakened or severely challenged condition, it fails,” the panel’s report states.

And there may be lessons here for anyone involved in a complex and difficult venture. People tempted fate, hoping for the best while failing to insure against the worst. They did not take care of the little things. And then the big thing — the Macondo well — didn’t take care of itself.

Oil Spill Disaster – June 28- Politics

The rumor around town is that the Republican Governors of the Gulf States have been told not to request a Presidential Disaster Declaration under the Stafford Act to deal with the oil spill.  Now a series of news articles suggest that some Governors are not using the resources they have to cope with the consequences of the spill. See: CBS News, June 28, Gulf Coast Governors Leaving National Guard Idle.

All along the Gulf coast, local officials have been demanding more help from the federal government to fight the spill, yet the Gulf states have deployed just a fraction of the National Guard troops the Pentagon has made available,

Are political considerations getting in the way of helping seriously impacted citizens?  What are your views on this?

Oil Spill Disaster — Update on June 22

In the interest of giving all sides of the issue some air time, see Heritage Foundation report titled Stopping the Slick, Saving the Environment: A Framework for Response, Recovery and Resiliency; June 15.  Some good points in here.  But I see only an indirect reference to the possible use of a Presidential Disaster Declaration under the Stafford Act, and no listing of the Ixtoc Oil Spill in their list list of the 10 worst spills to date.

From the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Group, formed in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, suggestions re useful resources for researchers and community groups. This is a useful, practical source of information.

One more call for Presidential action, in the style of Post 9//11:
Clean the Gulf, Clean House, Clean Their Clock, NYT 9/20, by Frank Rich

In this 9/11, it’s not just the future of the gulf coast, energy policy or his presidency that’s in jeopardy. What’s also being tarred daily by the gushing oil is the very notion that government can accomplish anything. The current crisis in that faith predates this disaster.

Rich also cites “…a scathing account of Obama’s own Interior Department by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone.” See The Spill, the Scandal, and the President (June 24, 2010). This is a detailed account of problems at MMS and Interior under both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Oil Spill Update – June 14

Looks like the President is thinking ahead to how the history books will view the BP Spill event: Obama: Gulf spill ‘echoes 9/11’, Politico, June 13.

President Barack Obama told POLITICO columnist Roger Simon that the Gulf disaster “echoes 9/11” because it will change the nation’s psyche for years to come.

Another excellent article on risk and some of the global ramifications of the faulty risk assessment done by BP; Wash Post, June 13.

How BP Flunked its Risk Tests, Wash Post, June 13. Some key quotes:

…whether it’s BP or financial firms, you get the best and the brightest, the smartest and the most highly compensated people in these positions in the private sector. The folks left to do the regulation and the oversight are poorly paid, not as up-to-speed, and the most talented can’t be kept there. And they often get run circles around, despite the fact that they are the guys who are supposed to understand externalities and look after the public weal.

I think for the United States, the BP spill is a really big deal. For Europe, except for BP in London, the much bigger deal is the realistic potential failure of the most important, and heretofore successful, experiment of the free market system ever. If you’re China, if you’re Russia, you’re looking at that.