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Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Deepwater Horizon, two years on

I’m on the road (going to LA Times book festival) and so this is just a quick note from a Starbucks amid the downtown LAT skyscrapers (they don’t have earthquakes in this part of the country, do they? Just in places like Virginia, right?).

It’s been two years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and there’s a microburst of articles today commemorating the tragedy. My colleague Steve Mufson has a good overview of the state of deepwater drilling. Key fact: The industry still hasn’t figured out how to clean up spilled oil. The technology hasn’t improved much in decades. And although the industry is surely better prepared for a deepwater blowout, it’s not clear (to me, at least) that it could handle every conceivable type of blowout. That 3-ram capping stack worked for the Macondo well (after 87 days!) but it might be useless in a blowout with a different configuration.

In a NYT op-ed, the author of a book on the Deepwater Horizon disaster suggests that BP won’t reform its ways unless it faces criminal charges or has its permits to drill in the Gulf revoked. He doesn’t say who, exactly, should be prosecuted. And he offers a persuasive explanation for why it’s hard to charge anyone: “The problem then (and perhaps now) is that it is the slow pileup of factors that causes an industrial disaster. Poor decisions are usually made incrementally by a range of people with differing levels of responsibility, and almost always behind a shield of plausible deniability. It makes it almost impossible to pin one clear-cut bad call on a single manager, which is partly why no BP official has ever been held criminally accountable.” Exactly. So who would you prosecute?

And here’s Michael Bromwich in Politico weighing in. He used to run the (elaborately named and too much of a pain to actually type in) bureau created to replace the tarnished Minerals Management Service. He makes an important point: “With growing interest and activity around the world, offshore exploration and development must be approached as a global rather than national issue.” Because they’re drilling in the deep water all over the planet. The oil companies are going to drill the Siberian Arctic. We’re collectively thirsty for oil and the industry is going to try to extract it. And it’s still a risky business.

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My colleague Ann Gerhart has a piece today about the Secret Service and she was kind enough to link to something I wrote on the Secret Service way back in the Dark Ages, when I was a “feature writer.” (Does anyone still use that term?)

By  |  12:47 PM ET, 04/20/2012

 
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