then this administration has really failed to do all it can to address the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Allow me to quote from his column We're losing the gulf war:
The Post reported Monday that the administration has received offers of assistance from 17 nations. Sweden has volunteered to send three ships that can each collect about 15,000 gallons of oil an hour. Norway has offered to send nearly a third of its oil-spill response equipment. Japan has offered to send some boom, which authorities on the scene complain is in short supply.
According to Robinson,
The Swedes, the Norwegians, the Japanese and most of the other would-be Samaritans are still waiting to hear from the U.S. government or BP.
My point here is not to criticize what is now being done, but to point out what could have been done earlier. And of greater importance, to raise a more general question about emergency preparedness.
Let's back up. From the moment the Deepwater Horizon caught on fire and the possibility of a spill / leak was known, I believe the administration should have been moving heaven and earth to obtain equipment for the worst case scenario.
Those Swedish ships can, according to the Post article to which Robinson linked, collect about 370 barrels per hour, which at 42 gal/bbl = 15,540 gallons. Or think of it this way, those three ships would have been scooping up 1110 barrels a day. A small amount of how much is now acknowledged to be coming out, but over the period of time since they could have been on scene, a substantial portion of what has now been fouled could have been protected - by these vessels, by the other offers of help.
Let's back up further. We have had previous serious situations - with tankers, with oil wells. The world has developed an arsenal of vessels and equipment to address such situations. If there is going to be drilling offshore, every nation should be participating in a common emergency response plan which would include identification of all possible resources, how long it takes to deploy, and what the effect of deployment will be.
Let's acknowledge that the previous administration did not have such a plan in place. From the day of the fire someone should have wargamed the worst possible scenarios, while others were identifying all possible resources that could be deployed. It should NOT have been left up to BP, because the risk was so great.
Of course, BP claimed it was able to contain any leak, but as Rachel Maddow has shown their response plan with its references to walruses was simply cut and paste from another document, and was never properly vetted by the Minerals Management Service or any other government agency, Federal, state, or local.
We learned from Katrina that we had not properly prepared to respond to the kinds of damage that was encountered. One might have thought that an administration would have had someone say - okay, we were unprepared for this. So where else might we be vulnerable? Where is the equipment and materiel to respond? How do we look ahead now to be able to respond to absolutely worst case scenarios?
And what if that brainstorming determined that we were not prepared to respond to a category five hurricane anywhere on the coast (despite having been through several in recent decades, and remember Katrina was NOT a 5 when it did its damage), or a serious blowout in an offshore drilling rig, or the failure of the largest sized tanker to navigate our waters. We might not be able to prevent hurricanes, but might we consider restrictions on development on barrier islands that cannot be successfully evacuated? Might we not restrict further drilling until we had proper plans in place to respond in case of a serious disaster, such as what is now happening?
How many other vulnerabilities exist, with either no response plan even though an event can be predicted, or with a response plan completely inadequate to the size of the problem? Nuclear power plants? Serious fires at chemical plants or refineries? Sabotage - of levees, dams, power plants, refineries, even offshore drilling patterns?
As I read Robinson and then read the post article from which he draws much of his information, I worry that we still do not prepare for failures that either can be predicted, or for which however unlikely if they occur the costs they impose would be so great that it is criminal not to have a full response plan in place, tested if necessary.
And yet, I do think this administration bears a great deal of responsibility. Let me quote the first two paragraphs of the Post article to which Robinson refers, and which is linked in the first blockquote:
Four weeks after the nation's worst environmental disaster, the Obama administration saw no need to accept offers of state-of-the-art skimmers, miles of boom or technical assistance from nations around the globe with experience fighting oil spills.
"We'll let BP decide on what expertise they do need," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters on May 19. "We are keeping an eye on what supplies we do need. And as we see that our supplies are running low, it may be at that point in time to accept offers from particular governments."
I am outside my particular area of expertise. And yet, before I was a teacher I was in data processing, and in that capacity learned to plan for problems. I have helped develop a disaster recovery plan for a local government's data processing department. As a manager of software development, I always planned for problems - call it a fudge factor, or simply allowing for a degree of human error based on past experience.
Past experience - this administration surely knew from other areas of the government that plans left by its predecessor needed to be examined and updated.
And the moment that drilling site became a problem, GIVEN IN PARTICULAR THE HISTORY OF BP, one might have thought that major efforts to prepare for a worst-case scenario would have begun immediately.
They did not. The situation has been allowed to fester for too long without sufficient action, domestically and internationally, to attempt to control it.
We might not have known everything. We still don't know everything. But to move the necessary assets, such as those Swedish ships, would take several weeks. In the midst of a developing cricis, can one really afford to wait? Suppose they were onsite within 3 weeks of the original leak?
The explosion took place on April 20. If we allowed 3 weeks, those three vessels would have been on station by May 11, or more than 30 days as I write this. 1,110 barrels a day, for 34 days. Not much, only 37,740 bbls total, on a leak that may well exceed that within 2 days.
What if all options had been deployed as quickly as possible? The ability say by the end of three weeks to capture oil at the surface at the rate of 15-20,000 bbl/day?
And then there is the really hard question - suppose with all of the equipment in the world we can only handle a rate of 30,000 bbl/day, and the actual leak is greater than that: what does that say about our decision to allow such drilling in the first place?
Life is not without risk. Yet we humans can plan, we can consider possibilities, however severe. We can prepare. And we certainly can rethink our previous conceptions in a moment of major crisis.
If Eugene Robinson is right - and I strongly suspect that he is - then many in our government failed to plan in the first place, and to respond appropriately once the incident occurred.
Please note - from what I can determine and what I know of the previous occupant of the Oval Office and his fellow oilman who really ran energy policy, the response to an incident like this would on their watch have been far more minimal.
But that is too low a bar.
And the damage being wreaked upon the Gulf and its coast - people, fish, birds, animals, habitat, livelihoods, ways of life - one can only hope and pray that we do not have a worst case scenario.
And we must hope and pray that this administration, and its counterparts around the world, recognize that some of the activities they promote for economic gain carry risks that will be born by those of other nations. On this, international cooperation and agreement are paramount.
Wherever there is a disaster or emergency response plan, at any level of government or in any private organization, I would hope those responsible would go back, check it out, see what's missing, what it depends upon. Make sure it addresses so-called worst case scenarios. Identify the resources necessary, those available, and set up working agreements for the sharing of equipment and trained personnel across national borders.
If Eugen Robinson is right - and he is - this administration did not do all it could and should have done. That is something for which they will be held accountable. Rightfully so.
Of greater importance is what those in governments, in the corporations that participate in this and similarly risky other enterprises, and we all, insist upon appropriate response plans to be in effect.
It would be truly tragic for another such incident to occur, and we still had not learned our painsfully won lessons. Lessons from Katrina, Lessons from this spill.
It is late. I read the Robinson. I reacted. I wrote. And now I post.
And then? I am likely to live this one to the mercies of the community.