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Remove BP From Oil Spill Efforts

[The post below originally appeared at - and was written by the authors of - Washington's Blog.]

BP was criminally negligent in drilling the well which blew out. See thisthisthis,thisthisthisthisthisthisthisthisthisthisthis and this

It has bungled everything it has done since. Indeed - as discussed below - it has made things worse

And BP has tried to cover up its blunders by lowballing the spill estimates, keeping reporters out of areas hardest hit by the oil (and threatening to arrest them if they try to take pictures), hiding dead birds and other sealife and using dispersants to hide the amount of spilled oil (the dispersants are only worsening the damage caused by the spill).

Given the enormous stakes (don't forget that we are starting a potentially "extremely active" hurricane season), why are we letting BP continue to be in charge of containment operations? 

Remember, there is probably damage beneath the sea floor. A misstep by BP couldmake things much worse.

Drilling relief wells is extremely difficult.

As I wrote on June 5th:

Many technical experts have said that the first attempts to complete the relief well in August could miss entirely on the first try, as it is difficult to intersect the blown-out well at the precise location and angle needed. 

As PBS notes:

Several experts have compared [intersecting the leaking well with the relief well] to hitting a target the size of a dinner plate two miles underground. 


The ... challenge is to exactly intercept the original well bore, which is only about a foot across. If they miss on the first attempt, they'll need to back up slightly, plug the hole they just made, and try again. Each attempt could take several days. [David Rensink, the incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists] says that the chances that they'll hit the well bore correctly on the first try are "virtually nil."

"If they're within 20 feet of it, that would be pretty good," he says. However, each attempt will reduce the uncertainty and get them closer, and Rensink says that he's "very certain" that the relief well will work eventually.

"The reason is that they're going to keep at it until they make it work," he says.

If the current relief wells fail, it could be until December or early next year until a correctly-positioned relief well can be completed. 

Indeed, ABC News implies that even after the relief well is completed, the Gulf oil may keep on flowing for months. Specifically, ABC points out:

Past experience in the Gulf of Mexico has been sobering. In 1979, a Mexican-owned rig called Ixtoc-1 suffered a blowout and collapsed, and 140 million gallons of oil escaped into the water. Pemex, the Mexican oil company, drilled two relief wells -- and even then oil kept escaping for three months after the first one was finished.
Similarly, MSNBC writes
If the [Ixtoc] disaster serves as a precedent, the BP spill could continue even after the two relief wells are expected to be finished in August.

And Spiegel reports today that there are many dangers with completing the relief wells:

Independent experts warn that relief wells, like any well, are not without risk."More oil could leak than before, because the field is being drilled into again," says Fred Aminzadeh, a geophysicist at the University of Southern California. Ira Leifer, a geochemist at the University of California in Santa Barbara, voices similar concerns: "In the worst case, we would suddenly be dealing with two spills, and we'd have twice the problem."


Leifer is a member of a team of experts deployed by US President Barack Obama to estimate the volume of oil currently flowing in the Gulf of Mexico. 


BP's most recent efforts to stop the flow of oil have only made the situation worse, says Leifer. The engineers' attempt to seal off the well from above, using a method known as "top kill," failed and only enlarged the borehole, according to Leifer. Now, he adds, there is almost nothing stopping the oil from flowing out of the well.


As straightforward as it sounds, this approach [i.e. killing a spill by drilling relief wells] has not always been easy to implement in the past. The disaster in the Timor Sea, for example, ended in a debacle. It took engineer five tries to even find the borehole under the sea floor. Shortly before the end, the West Atlas oilrig went up in flames, after all.

Repeat of History?

Another case is also a warning sign for BP. In June 1979, engineers with the Mexican oil company Pemex lost control of the Ixtox I, an exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico. Just as BP is now attempting to do, engineers at the time drilled two relief wells.


Is history repeating itself? The spill in the Macondo oil field could also continue to gush uncontrollably well beyond BP's August deadline. Pemex Director Carlos Morales, currently providing BP with technical advice, expects the spill to continue for another "four to five months." Leifer also believes that the disaster on the sea floor could drag on "until late fall."

Although the BP engineers have already completed two-thirds of the first relief well, it is extremely difficult to find the out-of-control well in the middle of the bedrock, says David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

"You're trying to intersect the well bore, which is about a foot wide, with another well bore, which is about a foot wide," Rensink said recently. Hitting it with the first attempt, he adds, "would truly be like winning the lottery."

Instead, the engineers will presumably have to repeatedly pull back the drill head to adjust the direction, Rensink predicts. "If they get it on the first three or four shots, they'd be very lucky."

More Caution

Rensink is particularly concerned that BP, in drilling the relief wells, will penetrate into precisely those rock formations in which extreme pressure and temperature conditions facilitated the April blowout in the first place. Gas bubbles and gushing oil from the depths are real possibilities. "Any relief or kill well needs to be drilled with more caution than the first well," Donal Van Nieuwenhuise, a geologist at the University of Houston, told the New Orleans dailyTimes-Picayune. "You don't want a repeat performance."


Indeed, the engineers aren't only facing a formidable technical challenge. Weather will also play a significant role. Forecasters have already predicted that this hurricane season, which began this month, could be one of the most active on record. Drilling would have to be ceased for the duration of each strong storm.

Government spokesmen have said that BP's technical knowledge and equipment are superior to the government's. But that is misleading. 

The U.S. government might not have expertise, but many private companies do. For example, Norway's Statoil is the largest offshore operator in the world, with enormous experience in deepwater drilling. Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and other companies also have substantial experience in such operations. 

These companies are not without their own - although smaller - history of spills. But BP's safety record is the worst. See thisthisthis and this

And because other companies don't have a huge, direct legal and financial interest in trying to underplay this spill (BP could be fined between $1,100 and $4,300 per barrel of oil released, and oil industry expert Matt Simmons believes that BP will be driven into bankruptcy), they will likely be somewhat more motivated to protect the Gulf and less motivated to try to cover their backs by hiding the evidence and pretending everything is fine. Moreover, group-think will likely be less if a diverse team drawn from different companies is involved, instead of a bunch of guys within the same company - BP. 

Numerous countries have also offered to help. See thisthisthis and this, but BP and the U.S. government have rejected their offers. 

Indeed, it is no longer just the U.S. threatened by this catastrophe, but also Mexico,Cuba, and possibly many other countries as well. 

The government shouldn't be letting the knuckleheads who caused the blowout and have made everything worse drill the relief wells. 

The White House should, instead, remove BP from the scene of the crime and appoint an international team of experts to drill relief wells, kill the spill, and clean up this mess on BP's dime. 

Summary of Cap-and-Trade Legislation

Goldman Sachs has actively lobbied for cap-and-trade:

Banks like JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs already have active carbon trading desks that deal in instruments connected to Europe's cap-and-trade system and voluntary markets here. But business will explode if a cap-and-trade system becomes law. So it's no surprise that the financial industry has taken an intense interest in the fine print of the Waxman-Markey bill. According to data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, the financial services industry has 130 lobbyists working on climate issues, compared to almost none in 2003. They represent companies like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and AIG (before it was shamed into temporarily halting its lobbying activities last fall). 

BP - yes, British Petroleum - also supports cap-and-trade legislation.  

“BP supports an economy-wide price for carbon based on fair and equitable application across all sectors and believes that market based solutions, like a cap and trade or linked-fee, are the best solutions to manage GHG emissions.” (Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, U.S. House Of Representatives, Hearing, 6/15/10).

There is nothing else left to said about cap-and-trade, and there is no reason to follow the debate or legislation.  Or is something that will make Goldman Sachs hundreds-of-billions also going to be good for the country?  Like the bubble?  Like the housing bubble?  Right...This time is different.  

Lions and Gazelles

The Discovery Channel is fertile soil for metaphors about existence.  What is nature but competition for existence?  We plant gardens, demanding that the soil produce fruit for us.  Otherwise harmless rodents compete for our food, and thus become sworn enemies.  What is life but competition and struggle?  

Yet watching herd animals being slaughtered by lions remains beyond my comprehension.  "Don't they realize," I think to myself, "that they outnumber the lions?"  Collectively, more gazelles will die because they won't turn on the lions.  If the gazelles agreed to attack the lions, their predators would be slain, and the gazelles would be free to establish a society suited to their needs.

"If only gazelles had consciousness," I used to tell myself, "then they'd realize their inferior strategy."

Yet here were all are, bitching about Wall Street rather than stringing those mother fuckers up from nooses.  We complain about special interests.  Yet the very phrase - special interest - indicates their smallness in number.  The masses hate the special interests because special interests pass legislation harmful to the many, and beneficial for the few.

Unlike the gazelles, we don't lack consciousness.  We don't lack awareness.  We know what is happening.  It's happening right in front of us.  We can see it.  We are aware of it.  We know it.

Every day I wonder how much longer people will live as gazelles...

Too Small Too Succeed Illustrated in Two Cases

Was it Norm Pattis who coined "too small to succeed"?  Whomever it was, two articles I read today painfully illustrated that principle:

  1. In Astrue v. Ratliff, the Supreme Court upheld the Executive Branch's screwing a lawyer for the disabled out of $2,200.
  2. Meanwhile, the Mega Law Firms handling the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy bill out Second Year Associates - yes, 27-year-old lawyers! - at $500 an hour.  And they get it.  And no one is stopping them.  Well, one czar told the lawyers and consultants that they cannot bill Lehman more than $500 a night for a hotel room.  They can still bring a partner ($1,500 an hour) and two associates ($500 minimum an hour) to every deposition.  Take that, Big Law!

If you're big time, the federal government - including the judiciary, which oversees legal fees in bankruptcy cases - will take care of you.  Indeed, they will bail you out when you make bad bets.  You are too big too fail.  If you're a work-a-day citizen, the government won't even grant you a piker's wage.

The government has conspired with Wall Street to endebt every American, thus ensuring that the slaves continue working for the Machine.  If it weren't for my student loans, I'd check out of society completely.  I have no other debt, unfortunately, or I'd walk away from that.  Why continue working to support a system that conspires to enslave me?

Currently there is no peaceful way for a person to revolt against the Wall Street-Federal Government complex.  That will need to change - and change soon - unless the government wants the gazelles to realize that they outnumber the lions.

Say Hello to "Hand of the Devil"

A friend of mine has a blog that I don't read - because I only now know he had a blog.  And thus one soon realizes the challenges of blogging: What if you have a site that no one knows about?  Do you crap-flood your friends' e-mail boxes with blogging announcements?  Not if you want to remain friends.  

Another problem is humility.  Most people with something interesting to say often remain silent out of fear.  A person with rational self-awareness realizes that whatever he produces will be flawed.  And that even what is good will be largely ignored.  "Why would anyone read it?"  

Blogging is like applying for a job or meeting a mate: Even if you're qualified, most are going to reject you.  Some employers don't have enough work for an associate.  In this law market - saturated with unqualified lawyers making big promises, and clients without the money to hire qualified lawyers - many firms are teetering on bankruptcy.  In life, 90% of people are going to reject us.  Sometimes it's our fault, but often rejection is the product of circumstances.   

Anyhow, I've added a new blog to my rotation.  "Devil's Advocate" is written by Connecticut lawyer Kevin Smith.  I'd read it even if he weren't a friend.  

The blog is written about being plugged into the Criminal Justice Matrix.  Any decent person who begins a criminal practice is going to have "system errors."

Granted, even experienced criminal defense lawyers realize the system is lunacy.  Yet even idealistic-but-older lawyers will experience habituation.  Spend a few years watching oppression, and you forget that you're watching oppression.  

It's thus enjoyable to be see a thoughtful-but-not-yet-jaded person write about an insane world.  Check it out.

Narcissist at First Sight

According to the Greek myth, Narcissus looked for someone to love.  He found no one worthy until he glanced upon his own shadow.  There he remained until he died.

New social psychological research shows that young Narcissus would not have died alone.  See "Why Are Narcissists so Charming at First Sight? Decoding the Narcissism–Popularity Link at Zero Acquaintance" (here):

Three main findings were revealed: First, narcissism leads to popularity at first sight. Second, the aspects of narcissism that are most maladaptive in the long run (exploitativeness/entitlement) proved to be most attractive at zero acquaintance. Third, an examination of observable verbal and nonverbal behaviors as well as aspects of physical appearance provided an explanation for why narcissists are morepopular at first sight.

Narcissists make great first impressions.

Are narcissists really more popular at first sight? When perceivers were exposed to the full amount of information available from targets’ appearances and behaviors at zero acquaintance, a significant positive effect of narcissism on popularity was found. Narcissists indeed make a positive impression on strangers. This was found for uninvolved as well as for highly involved perceivers. Thus, despite the negative interpersonal consequences of narcissism in long-term relationships, narcissists are more popular at first sight.

It gets even more interesting:

Interestingly, recent findings also show that narcissism is detectableat zero acquaintance (Vazire et al., 2008). Observers thus seem to like narcissists at first sight, although they accurately perceive their narcissism.

All of that stuff Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in "Blink" applies to personality assessments:

These findings parallel research on the accuracy of personality judgments based on thin slices of the targets’ behaviors and physical appearances. In many cases, the accuracy of snap judgments only increases slightly when based on more information (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992; Ambady & Skowronski, 2008;Kenny, 1994). Accurate personality judgments can result even when based solely on physical information (e.g., Borkenau &Liebler, 1992). Specifically for narcissism, researchers have shown that observers are able to judge targets’ narcissism on the basis of full-body photographs (Vazire et al., 2008).

Your first judgment is usually right.  Yet even when people know it's the Devil in front of them, they still jump into bed: 

the most maladaptive facet of narcissism (E/E) was most strongly related to popularity at first sight. People with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to manipulate and exploit others were liked more at zero acquaintance. 

Why do people prefer manipulative and entitled people?  Do we assume that entitled people must be entitled for some rational reason, and thus mistake a sense of entitlement for high status?  I don't know, nor do the article's authors.

Their findings comport with common experience.  We like charming people.  If someone comes into your office for an interview, you'll evaluate his outfit.  That there is zero correlation between someone's clothing and his work as a lawyer means nothing.  You will pay attention to the big smile, fancy suit, and animated answers.

Probably the best way to hire someone would be to hand an interviewee a case file: "Go into this office.  Write a motion for summary judgment.  See you in four hours."  Instead, we have job interviews.  How primitive!    

In other contexts, you've now doubt heard someone complain that his or her lover is "so narcissistic!"  Yet swoons are made and calls are returned.  Rarely does anyone disqualify a person from his life due to narcissism.  People might complain about narcissistic behavior, but they always seem to find themselves back around the narcissist.

Why?  Perhaps their charm is too much to overcome?  

And what makes a narcissist charming?  

Narcissism was related to fancier clothing, a more charming facial expressionmore self-assured body movements, and more verbal humor, all of which led to popularity.

All of that can be learned, so people who want to be more popular can no longer claim that, "You either have it or you don't."  For some, being "cool" or "charming" comes naturally - just as some people are natural athletes or naturally book smart.  The rest of us simply need to dress snappily and read a few books on facial expression and body language.