The Deep Water Horizon catastrophe is a clear-cut case of criminal negligence on the part of BP, Haliburton and Transocean. All 3 companies are responsible and so is the U.S government for years of lax enforcement of regulations. But this disaster goes far, far beyond that- the manner in which it happened and more importantly, our reaction to it is a damning indictment of our entire civilization.

Let's go over a few details surrounding the accident and why this serves as a microcosm for problems we see repeating over and over again in all walks of life:

1) This was entirely preventable. In the weeks leading up to the disaster there were all kinds of major problems that should have been show-stoppers. Management was well aware of these issues but decided to push ahead with operations and take the gamble that nothing bad would happen despite all of the warning signs.

Now I'll be the first to admit that no operation is EVER running in full compliance of every safety code out there. My father works in offshore oil, and if the crew were to actually adhere to every single rule in the book they would be running checks 24/7 and would never get the opportunity to actually pump any oil. With that said, the problems that happened on Deepwater were not the "aww shucks, we'll get to it next week" type of problems. These were blatant, in-your-face red lights, but for some odd reason they were ignored. Why were they ignored? They were ignored for the same reasons that the levees of New Orleans were never upgraded despite the fact that it had been known for decades they were insufficient. They were ignored for the same reasons that many economists were screaming at the top of their lungs about the banking collapse years in advance only to be branded "chicken little alarmists"

They were ignored, ultimately because as a society we have banished reality, and now live in whatever comfortable fantasy we decide to create while the real world goes to hell in a handbasket. And that leads me to my next point-

2) Magical thinking. Our society is quite possibly doomed to fail because we have been taken over by magical thinkers. We are regularly encouraged to ignore reality if it does not suit our purposes. In the corporate environment, to point out the flaw in someone's plan by bringing up a valid technical point is to be branded a naysayer, not a team player. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, the lowly technical grunts, as well as some engineers regularly brought up valid problems only to receive the silent "brow-beating" treatment from the BP manager who would declare that these lowly peons didn't see the big picture and needn't be concerned.

Magical thinking banishes the practical, technical details of reality and replaces it with whatever information is most convenient or desirable. 

The invasion of Iraq, regardless of one's stance on it, was ultimately based on magical thinking. If you'll recall the U.S administration at the time proclaimed that only six months after the invasion troop levels would be drawn down to only 30,000 personnel in a handful of large bases and that the cost would be something on the order of 20 to 30 billion dollars, all of which would be repaid in oil revenues once the Iraqi nation was back on it's feet. The kicker was that they actually, honestly believed this and therefore had no coherent long-term plan for restoring security, infrastructure and government to the country after taking over. They honestly, sincerely thought that things would just sort of sort themselves out and in not having a thought out plan came very, very close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

As with all things, the proof is in the pudding-

The financial meltdown is a prime example of magical thinking. In any rational system of thought, the idea that one can create real wealth through complex derivatives (ultimately based on garbage) is absolute malarkey. And yet we as a society ate it up.

Now that the damage has been done with Deepwater, we see ridiculous amounts of magical thinking regarding the impact of the spill and the response to it. Much of the mainstream media, in fact much of the population, seem to be in complete and utter denial (or ignorance) of the severity of what is really going on.

This is evident in even the simplest of details about the spill. Question number 1:

How much oil has really been spilled, and how much is spilling on a daily basis?

BP initially flat out lied in the first few days and said that very little to no oil had spilled. Then after a couple of days when it was evident this was not the case (and that they wouldn't be able to fix the leak anytime soon), they said it was on or around 1,000 barrels a day. Then the NOAA came out and "guesstimated" about 5,000 barrels a day, and BP in a very peculiar act threw up their hands and said

"oh yeah, yup, it's 5,000 barrels a day just like the government man over there said!"

Interestingly enough, it turns out the calculation the NOAA used has been disproven by several independent universities and when BP.... very grudgingly... released actual footage of -one- of the leaks, multiple engineers and scientists in the industry were very easily able to figure out that the actual spill is much closer to 30,000 barrels a day.

But what's even more interesting is that it would be very, very easy to put this debate to bed and accurately measure the rate to get some hard numbers on just how much oil is really spilling into the gulf. Several scientists have offered their services to BP who has flatly rejected them and seems hell-bent on stating that "it doesn't matter how much is leaking, what matters is what we do to stop it"

I call bullshit. In order to properly fix a problem you need to know how bad it is, you need to properly quantify it. In not even measuring the spill, which BP is fully capable of doing with relatively little effort, we again see magical thinking at work, as hard, proven numbers are a fact of reality that is best ignored!

3) Media and Government Complicity. The media are being complete whore's for BP right now, and the 'gubment aint looking much better. Instead of actually doing their god-damned jobs and getting out there to really dig down and report on the problem, they are waiting with bated breath to do nothing more than relay whatever statements BP decides to release.

This has lead to all kinds of ridiculous stories in which BP has been painted as a victimized crusader who is falling over themselves to save us all from destruction, while at the same time firmly insisting they are not responsible in any way, shape or form.

We routinely hear about how BP has spent 625 million and counting on the clean-up effort and no shortage of information is readily available on all the miles of booms deployed and hundreds of thousands of (toxic) dispersants have been dumped and so forth.

We routinely hear of dramatic, frantic efforts to fix the leaks with cool and flashy names like utilizing a "top kill" and using underwater robots, with the utterly bizarre backup plan of a "junk shot" (next they will come up with the "money shot" procedure)

And of course, the media are doing the bare minimum to show that they are "getting out there" by going for a cruise in a boat and saying "look! over there! look at that blob of floating oil over there!!! we sure are reporters, yessirreee!"

So, despite all of this, here's my question---


This is a question that no one, NO ONE has been able to accurately answer. It's the goof of all time, we've got satellites and ships and legions of reporters but there doesn't seem to be much of an impetus to really dig down and report on the real effects. What am I talking about? Well for one, no ones been saying much about the fact that most of the oil may not be rising to the surface but instead could be getting sucked around by deep sea currents where it could be doing a lot of damage under the surface, but hey, out of sight out of mind right?

Or the fact that large amounts of oxygen could get depleted from the gulf of mexico, resulting in a cascade effect through the food chain resulting in all kinds of nastyness.

Or the fact that one of the richest and diverse breeding grounds for marine life on the planet is threatened and there's no real strategic plan for dealing with this.

Instead, we seem to be content to sit back and let BP portray itself as the White Knight.

Meanwhile in the real world, today the European Space Agency was the first to get this little scoop-

The oil has gotten into the gulf stream. Now, they were able to say this, because they were able to verify that oil on the surface has reached the location where the stream runs. They saw this from a satellite in orbit. Nevermind that sub-surface oil could be reaching the stream in much larger amounts, or any such practical thoughts.

What was our reaction? Immediately the NOAA came back saying that it was nothing to worry about, because it's a very light, very small amount of oil. Or in other words:

"Nothing to see here folks. Nevermind that satelites in orbit can see that we have oil on the surface spreading over enough area to cover a couple of States, and don't for a second think that any oil is present underwater that we can't see. Nevermind that in other studies of oil spills it was proven that a lot of oil doesn't rise to the surface right away but gets circulated around down there, yep, there's nothing underwater (even though the leak is over a mile below the water) it's all rising to the surface and there's not much getting in the gulf right now, so no biggie!"

At the end of the day, when another nations (well, continents) space agency needs to tap you on the shoulder and say

"umm, hi guys.... you know that oil slick in your backyard.... yeah, umm, we can see it from space, and, umm, it's kind of, growing... a lot"

In order for the media to actually run the story..... there's something terribly wrong with that picture.

If you've stayed with me all the way to this point, thanks for hanging in there!

In summary

1) BP BAD!!!! Hulk should SMASH BP!!!

2) We deserve to go extinct due to our own stupidity in chosing magical thinking over reality

3) The media are useless gasbags who drone on about celebrity gossip and meaningless tit for tat politics while ignoring or downplaying what is actually happening and are quite content to be an extension of BP's Public Relations department.

It is for these reasons that I genuinely believe that our civilization.... in fact the human species.... is heading down shit creek without a paddle.

The good news is, we can get out of it. The first thing we have to do, is wake up from this bullshit fantasy and realize we are, in fact, heading down shit creek.



on May 20, 2010

You make an interesting point about the media. But there will be no outrage, because that would make the government look inept, and by proxy, the majority of the media's boss and benefactor, Barrack Obama. But that's another story, you can read about it here.

on May 21, 2010

One area of disagreement.  The Media is not being complicit with BP.  They are trying to cover for Obama.  There is malfeasance and complicity, but then there always has been in the media.  As long as the story is about someone they do not like, they will play it to the hilt.  But for those they do like?  Silence.

on May 21, 2010

But for those they do like? Silence.

Could you imagine if this happened under Bush's watch? It just goes to show bot only is there media bias, but they don't even have a consciences... the fear of perceived partiality. Truly amazing!

on Jun 07, 2010

The Deep Water Horizon catastrophe is a clear-cut case of criminal negligence on the part of BP, Haliburton and Transocean.

Thank you for that, Arty.  You've saved us a ton of time and money.  We can cancel the inquiry and go straight to the executions.

The only things clear-cut here are your bias and ignorance.