May 4th, 2010

The missing booms: the best laid schemes o’ government an’ men…

gang aft agley
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!

What is the moral to this story?:

If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.

The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.

But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.

When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.

At federal officials’ behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.

A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.

“They said this was the tool of last resort. No, this is absolutely the asset of first use. Get in there and start burning oil before the spill gets out of hand,” Bohleber said. “If they had six or seven of these systems in place when this happened and got out there and started burning, it would have significantly lessened the amount of oil that got loose.”

Who’s to blame? Well, the plan without follow-through was hatched during the Clinton administration. But since then there’ve been both the Bush and Obama administrations, although neither president was probably aware of the deficiency in a scheme that called for the use of equipment that was never acquired.

If Bush had been president, however, you can be sure he would be the one most people and the MSM would blame. But I don’t see Obama getting off all that easy, either, when even the New York Times is criticizing him for his delay in reacting to the seriousness of the emergency.

Is the main problem here compartmentalization? Government grown so unwieldy and disconnected that a plan can be hatched with no attempt at actually following through? Is it also the elevation of words over actions—if the report is written and the study done, that is considered enough, without a thought as to what might be needed to actually implement it?

Here’s more:

…[F]ormer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet — who helped craft the 1994 plan — told the Press-Register that officials had pre-approval for burning. “The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away.”

What use is a trigger without a gun?

(But I’m sure the government will do just fine managing health care…)

21 Responses to “The missing booms: the best laid schemes o’ government an’ men…

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    Who’s to blame?

    but ultimately, they didnt have booms, as they used the money for something else.

    [at least in a corrupt capitalist system we would get a bridge with our graft]

    Twelve children ranging from teenagers to toddlers to infants spent the past week here, scrambling across the floor, bouncing on beds. With eyes filled with resignation on Wednesday morning, they were hungry and dirty and they wore the same clothes as the day before and the day before that.

    Angel Adams, the mom, was asking for help, as the children rambled about the room. She was homeless and hopeless, she said. A relative paid for the motel room for a week, and after that, who knows. Her fiancé is in prison. Her 1-year-old is named John The Baptist Brown.

    With measured indignation, Adams said somebody owes her.

    time for a sockdolager…

    “‘It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. ….

    and for those that dont know what a sockdolager is…

    This sockdolager of a word has an unusual claim to fame in the US history. It turned out to be the cue on which John Wilkes Booth fired his shot at President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was watching the play “Our American Cousin” in Ford’s Theater on that fateful night. His killer, Booth, an actor himself and aware of the dialog, knew the line that brought the loudest burst of laughter from the audience was:
    “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap.”
    Booth fired his gun at that precise moment to muffle the loud noise of his shot with the guffaws from the audience.

    The 12 kids are the youngest of 15 altogether, she said. Three have “aged out,” meaning they have turned 18 and are on their own, no longer a part of the child welfare system.

    “I can have as many as I want to,” she said. All her kids, she added, “are gifts from God.”

    The 37-year-old mother doesn’t work. “This is my work,” she said gesturing toward the bunch. “I do this all by myself. I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is a revolving door going nowhere.”

    [edited for length by n-n]

  2. Artfldgr Says:

    Is it also the elevation of words over actions—if the report is written and the study done, that is considered enough, without a thought as to what might be needed to actually implement it?


    I work with researchers.. who think they and their work is so important. but the lions share of it goes NOWHERE.

    they remind me of the researchers in the Danny Kaye movie where he is a young man with a bunch of older men who are researching music so much they have not time to leave the house so long, they forgot what they outside was like

    i cant get them to move some of the crap on the pile, to stuff that can be made..

    the other half of it is that they are so afraid of wrong, that they will nto run a race till they know who wins. ie. they have a 100% strategy for losing 100% of the time. the other point is that they get paid for failure as much as success. so they dont get better wiht their idea making.

    your line points out so much of the problem with the elite.

    they think that the engine of capitalism is like magic. that it can be redirected. and how do you do that? you just ask the great amazing magic masses, and THEY make it happen. SEE! we have cell phones..

    they also have rarely if at all implemented anything!!!!

    i am always desingnig stuff to help these guys. and they will say things like.. i want it to do X and i want it to have Y and i want to use a battery..

    i will say opt for wall wart, as your not going to be able to do it.

    NOTHING stops them except wasting all the energy and effort to try what is a KNOWN!!!

    i said if you were an engineer you would be fired. why? because your wasting resources on crap that wont work..

    they cant make things work…
    they CAN make large ideas and then just imagine the magical hand will make it so.

    [edited for length by n-n]

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “Is the main problem here compartmentalization? “
    Perhaps or might the ‘delay’ be intentional? Hard to prove without written direction to delay, which would be the needed ‘smoking gun’ for certainty.

    So, a case of incompetency or possibly, duplicitous mendacity.

    The looming environmental disaster will be characterized as ‘proof’ in the argument that offshore drilling is too environmentally and economically risky to allow…a refrain we are certain to hear.

    The answer to that refrain is a mobile response unit with fire booms in reserve and mandatory redundant pressure valve close-off systems.

    Drill Baby, Drill!

  4. expat Says:

    If a report is written, a study done…” If you add “a resolution passed,” you would also have a perfect description of how the UN works. Implementation is just so inconvenient.

  5. nyo Says:

    I’m Gulfport Mississippi at this moment — Saturday morning we found the heads to three sea turtles, I’ve never seen one on the beaches here, must less one that was alive. BTW the fresh seafood while it last is absolutely fabulous! See Gus’s Crawfish Hut in Longbeach!

  6. SteddieH Says:

    I strongly doubt we’ll ever see, from today’s politicians, Colonel Crockett’s reaction to Horatio Bunce’s admonition (

    Seems conscience, morals, and common sense get left on the doorstep in government.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman & Danny Kaye in A SONG IS BORN

  8. Sergey Says:

    I want to know how this Switzerland-made preventer did not prevent anything. Swiss have the world best reputation in mechanical reliability, and cut-off valves are their speciality. Actually, nobody except them makes such things, because of impossibility to compete. Or even Swiss performance can not be trusted anymore?

  9. Sergey Says:

    There are Russian deep-water manned vehicles “Mir” with precision manipulators. They can be used up to 5 km depth and can work several hours at every dip. May be, US can borrow them to fix the problem. They were used for 20 years now with great success. It does not seem to me unsolvable problem to block the tube or fix preventor.

  10. njcommuter Says:

    Maybe the problem is that we expect the Federal government to be able to do so many things that we can’t even keep track of them, much less make sure they are ready.

    Should the Navy or Coast Guard act as a fire department for offshore oil wells? Well, probably. But who, if asked to list the responsibilities of those services, would think to list this one thing?

    What’s really important is that this story get out. The MSM being what it is, it won’t. Has anyone caught it on Fox? Or for that matter on Rush or Hannity?

  11. Gray Says:

    Instead of a fire boom, we had Boom! Fire!

  12. Oldflyer Says:

    Sergey, we have that kind of equipment. Remember we raised the sunken Russian submarine from extreme depths of the Pacific ocean over three decades ago. We (private individuals) found the Titanic and explored it. There are many instances of sophisticated equipment employed at very great depths. Equipment is available. The will to pay for its use may have been a problem.

    I have posted at other sites that this episode represents a major failure of basic management/leadership principles.

    It is pretty fundamental for leaders to demand a comprehensive brief whenever a potential crisis arises. The first question (harking to USN days) would be: is there a contingency plan? The next would be is the plan current and is it being implemented? The next question would be, are the resources necessary for success on scene? If not, where are they; and who is getting them to the scene? Finally, “Give me frequent updates, and inform me immediately of any unforseen problems”.

    Apparently, the basic briefing was never asked for nor received at the higher levels of government. It turns out there has been a plan since 1994. It was not implemented. The plan required equipment (fire booms) that had never been procured by U.S. based companies or authorities–although they are apparently available in abundance in some South American countries. Over a week after the onset of the problem, the preliminary actions had not been accomplished.

    This is a failure of focus, or competence, at every level of industry and government. There should be significant ramifications to those in positions of responsibility right up to, and including the White House.

    Too bad that the necessity to rush around the country for political fund raisers and to sell his agenda, complicated by the distraction of the Correspondent’s dinner prevented the President from focusing his problem-solving skills.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    njcommuter: I heard some of the story of the missing booms and the 1994 report on Fox. It wasn’t made a big deal of, but they did mention it.

  14. LAG Says:

    Well, if we had had them on hand, we’d still get headlines like this one: “Oil cleanup chemicals worry environment watchdogs”. You can’t win.

  15. Thomass Says:

    “Is the main problem here compartmentalization? Government grown so unwieldy and disconnected that a plan can be hatched with no attempt at actually following through”

    The buck stops here and he is the chief exec… but then again, the company doing the drilling should put things in place to protect from accidents / spills… government’s place might be if there were many platforms they could share the expense of the fire equipment through taxes for the government to buy the fire equipment (ie, like public roads are paid for by everyone)… anyway… they had the plan and failed to be on top of it…

  16. Thomass Says:

    Also, it’s hard to pay for this stupid infrastructure stuff when you have to do so much wealth spreading.

  17. Thomass Says:

    Sergey Says:

    “I want to know how this Switzerland-made preventer did not prevent anything. Swiss have the world best reputation in mechanical reliability, and cut-off valves are their speciality. Actually, nobody except them makes such things, because of impossibility to compete. Or even Swiss performance can not be trusted anymore?”

    It’s still early but what I’ve picked up is that the dead hand preventers don’t work if they’re blown up (i.e., parts of them are on the platform and they need to be intact to work). Which is when you go to measure #3, remote controls that bypasses the platform and transmits to the equipment underwater…. which BP didn’t use…

  18. Sergey Says:

    This is common knowlege that oil and gas drilling is inherently risky, and that fires and explosions at oil rigs are especially hard to extinguish. This means that multi-layered defense is needed, with a whole hierarhy of contingency plans being prepared and supported by all necessary resources.
    I was taught that dead-hand remote control means that no signal is needed for cut-off: signal is needed to keep oil flowing. In case of any communication breakdown, preventor at the mouth must trigger cut-off automatically.

  19. Sergey Says:

    Oldflyer: I remember this story abour recovering sunken Soviet submarine, but it did not include any autonomous vehicles, manned or not. All was done from Glomar Challenger ship, using drilling tubes. As far I know, two “Mir” vehicles are the only ones operative now. And they were already leased to foreign exploration expeditions at several occasions. And filming of “Titanic” wreakage by James Cameron was done by using these two vehicles.

  20. Artfldgr Says:

    Titanic was a cover for the recovery

  21. Artfldgr Says:

    The man who located the wreck of the Titanic has revealed that the discovery was a cover story to camouflage the real mission of inspecting the wrecks of two Cold War nuclear submarines.

    When Bob Ballard led a team that pinpointed the wreckage of the liner in 1985 he had already completed his main task of finding out what happened to USS Thresher and USS Scorpion.

    Both of the United States Navy vessels sank during the 1960s, killing more than 200 men and giving rise to fears that at least one of them, Scorpion, had been sunk by the USSR.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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