Published on
the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Oil Spill Shows Why We Must Plan for the Worst

Ed Garvey

The Washington Post reported Saturday that "BP's own exploration plan, submitted to federal regulators in February 2009, minimized the danger of a spill." The company said it was unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from use of the Deepwater Horizon rig to pump oil from deep below the Gulf of Mexico.

BP's plan added that while a spill could damage wetlands and beaches, "due to distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected."

After the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers, a confident BP had many believing that the company was on top of the situation. They would throw a switch and - voila! - the well 5,000 feet below the surface would be capped. But as the inability of BP to stem the flow of oil pouring into the gulf became obvious, the question arose: How long will this go on? Some experts said perhaps a year. Whoa, Nelly! Signs of panic were noticed. Spokesmen seemed to be asking for sympathy: "This is a very difficult situation."

A BP spokesman cried, "We're breaking new ground here. It's hard to write a plan for a catastrophic event that has no precedent."

Are we to believe that this is the first time BP thought about it? No backup plans?

And the Obama administration's response? "I don't think anyone is sanguine about the situation," said Administrator Jane Lubchenco of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Boy, am I happy about that.


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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar didn't exactly inspire either. The Post reported that he urged BP to "work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done." Heck of a job, Ken. Good message - work harder!

Did anyone in Washington, including Salazar, think about a disaster of this magnitude while approving new wells off the coast of Virginia a couple of weeks ago - which they then put a hold on after the gulf disaster? If not, why not? The question should not be "What are the odds?" It must be "Is there any chance?" If there is any possibility of an oil spill, pause before issuing permits. Please. In the Army I learned the six P's: "Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance." Apparently, no one taught the six P's to BP.

Finally, Tony Hayward of BP said, "We are determined to fight this spill on all fronts." One would expect no less but don't you wonder why the BP "experts" did not have a clue about how to avoid a catastrophe if plan A failed to stop the flow of oil?

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? The oil gushing from the ocean floor may never end. The Gulf of Mexico could be dead by year's end. How can it be that on the day following the explosion, we were told not to worry?

Is anyone in the administration "planning" for the big one in San Francisco? How about another nuclear accident like the one at Three Mile Island? Could a meltdown occur? The nuclear experts, like BP, will borrow from Huck Finn: "I don't speak the truth - I speak what ought to be the truth." Not to worry: "Nuclear energy is safe," nuclear energy experts tell us. An accident is very unlikely, those experts say. But suppose an earthquake hits directly under a nuclear power plant. Any problem? No? Oh, good.

Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and the editor of the website.

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