Saturday, May 15, 2010

What Comes After Plan B

It seems that no one knows how bad it is or what to do about it. The New York Times reports that far more oil is streaming into the Gulf of Mexico than was first reported:
The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.
As the oil industry ponders what comes after Plan B, Talking Points Memo notes that Obama is sending in a team to try to fix the mess:
As BP's high-priced industry experts flail, the president has turned to a rag-tag band of big-think scientific renegades, and sent them on a mission to somehow MacGyver a way to stop up the leak -- before it's too late.
OK, maybe that's going a bit far. In fact, the news that Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, have sent a team of leading physicists and engineers to the Gulf to work with BP offers further evidence of the administration's essentially technocratic approach to governance, and its faith in knowledge-based expertise.
TPM describes the the team: the Old Hand, the Establishment Man, the Maverick Genius, the No-Nonsense Engineer and the What-Am-I-Doing-Here? Guy.
But life is not a movie script. In reality, we have a disaster on our hands that nobody knows how to stop, and the crude oil will continue to gush for who knows how long.
The breakdown in the technical safeguards was made possible by a breakdown in regulatory safeguards, a practice Obama has promised to end:
Reacting to reports that federal regulators allowed extensive offshore drilling without first demanding the required environmental permits, the White House and the Interior Department said Friday that there would be a review of all actions taken by the Minerals Management Service, the agency responsible for offshore rigs, under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The law, enacted after the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, mandates that federal agencies must complete a thorough environmental assessment before approving any major project, especially one including offshore drilling.
The minerals service short-circuited the process when it granted hundreds of recent drilling permits, according to documents and current and former government officials.

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