The Gulf Disaster Engineered To Fail

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw

I have avoided talking about the BP spill. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been with me on a constant basis. I am incensed by what has happened in the Gulf. I am just as incensed, maybe more, that this is a case where shortcuts were taken to make more money. The Gulf disaster was engineered to fail.

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a clusterf**k. It is so complex a project there were myriad ways to cut corners–and most were cut.

Pick your poison–literally. There was outsourcing which decentralized responsibility. Each subcontractor had an incentive to save money on their piece of the project without, by design, seeing the full picture

There was “convenience flagging” which allowed many of the projects largest parts to escape proper US inspection by being “flagged” as foreign vessels. There was a cavalier attitude toward safety when safety cost money.

It’s no wonder our government is powerless to fix this problem. We were assured… No, we were lied to by the companies doing the drilling they had all the technology necessary to solve any problem that might arise in this incredibly complex problem. Make no mistake, they lied and we believed them.

Nowadays industries often work in areas so technologically complex we have no choice but to believe them. Oil isn’t alone here. Over the past few years airlines have been fined for flying planes with unfixed maintenance problems. Hospitals have had their problems too. Here’s a Google search for the phrase, “hospital fined.”

Fines are not enough. They become another calculation–a cost of doing business. If you’re lawyered up well crime can pay.

I am now vindictive. People in suits need to spend long periods of time in prison. Rich, powerful, well connected people need to take perp walks.

Over the long run masters of industry need to be fearful that their actions will have real world downsides for them.

That probably won’t happen. It should.

4 thoughts on “The Gulf Disaster Engineered To Fail”

  1. I agree 100% with you, Geoff. when it comes to these types of disasters, those in the upper part of the org. chart end up walking away with “golden parachutes” while those below don’t get answers, get fired, and consumers are left holding the smelly bag…

  2. It’s six-sigma gone missing. Motorola perfected the notion that if you are 95% perfect at each stage of a 10-step process- and each step must be perfect- your defect rate will be 60%. If it’s 98%, the defect rate is still high- 82%. Do the math… They led a manufacturing revolution based on tightening up tolerances to prevent defects.

    So, if you are building something as dangerous and complex and sequential as an oil rig- you want the incentive at each step to be perfection. It’s not that hard- the other companies have much better safety records.

    That’s also why the space shuttle was so dangerous. Too many low-tolerance items without redundancy. We’re lucky there weren’t more tragedies.

  3. If you have a spare 30 minutes, you might be interested to listen to the first half of Tuesday’s edition of “The Story”, an NPR show originating from Chapel Hill, NC. It’s an interview with Lisa Nigro, a UNC doctoral student in Marine Biology who was part of an ersatz crew assembled on a dime to go down to the Gulf and gather data to prove the existence of underwater oil plumes. (They found plenty of data to prove that the plumes are down there, but BP has yet to acknowledge this.) It is a fascinating firsthand account of what it’s really like at “Ground Zero” in the Gulf.

    Lisa is a former New Haven resident (she was my downstairs neighbor for a couple years, and we’re still friends), who used to work in a lab at Yale. Her thesis research has just taken a very unexpected left turn …for better or for worse, some really valuable science is coming out of all of this, at least.

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