Monday, 17 May 2010

Get the priorities right


There is a time and place for everything. Many of the players in the oil spill drama in the Gulf of Mexico need to consider this truism.

If you haven’t been following the events, here’s a quick synopsis of what happened. An explosion happened in the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform, in the Gulf of Mexico, some 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. 11 workers are feared dead. Oil is now gushing out of the well , some 1 mile beneath the waters on the ocean floor. Stemming this oil flow is presenting a massive engineering problem – how do you try and do damage control one mile below on the ocean floor where the pressure is massive. The oil is gushing out every day. By any account this is a big environmental problem and could become a disaster if the oil slick reaches the Louisiana coast.

The oil field’s principal developer is British Petroleum (BP). The drilling rig was however run by another company Transocean. Everybody loves to hate the big oil companies – so its very easy to vilify BP. BP’s response has been to try and contain the oil gushing out . It has also said "We are taking full responsibility for the spill and we will clean it up and where people can present legitimate claims for damages we will honor them”. Tony Hayward the Chief Executive of BP is personally leading the management of the crisis – he could hardly do otherwise.

When faced with such a disaster, I would have thought the first and only action would be to stop the oil flow. This is priority number one. Everything else is irrelevant now. All the energy, resources and efforts of everybody must be focused on solving the problem. BP is mobilizing massive resources to do this. The US Military has joined in the operation. The US Coast Guard has started to try and burn off the oil before it reaches the coast. Some 10,000 people and 250 vessels are involved in the effort.

When a crisis happens, you need to protect the people who are trying to fight the crisis, even if they are responsible for creating it. You can crucify them later. First solve the problem. And don’t tell them you are going to quarter them, lynch them, torture them, while they are trying to solve it.

But then human nature being what it is, there is a blame game going non. The US Senate , in what is familiar theatre these days, holds a hearing and yells and abuses Chief Executives of every company involved in the matter. The US Congress is launching its own probe. Every lawyer worth his salt is making a beeline for Louisiana and finding ways to sue. They have blamed BP for not accurately measuring how much of oil is gushing out. When the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of chemical dispersants to mitigate the impact of the oil (taking a calculated view of the lesser of the two evils), environmentalists are falling over themselves to criticize the move. There are furious debates on the size of the compensation that BP has to pay. There is criticism that BP is offering to pay only “legitimate claims” – as if they can say anything else. If you read the press, there is only criticism all around.

By all means do all these things. But after the problem is solved. Not now. Right now, support the people and companies who are fighting the problem. If you distract them into defending legal positions, you are doing a massive disservice. Hold your criticism, for God’s sake. There’s a time and place for everything.

16 comments:

  1. Anonymous17/5/10

    its the same case everywhere thala...wen someone wrongs u..do u wait till u get urself vindicated or do u go ahead and bash up the other guy? action movies..however stupid they may be still run to packed houses compared to art films..basicavay naama ellorumay violent people who are hell bent on proving, not only, others wrong..but we are the RIGHTEOUS MEN. cant help it :)

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  2. Exkalibur66617/5/10

    Hi, I have been reading all your posts but couldn't comment more often...
    I guess it is the same every where.. every one pushes their own agenda. No one really wants to do the right thing or the best thing for common good. They want to do what is best for themselves..guess this, get it at all costs attitude is one of the root cause to many evils of our time..

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  3. @Gils - Great observation Gils. And very true. I think its millions of years of survival of the fittest evolution that is hardcoded into our genes. We can't help but want to bash the other guy. You combination of wit and incisiveness in the comments is amazing.

    @Exkalibur - Great to see you again here. Very true; its each for himself, but then man is capable of nobler emotions.

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  4. You are bang on ...it is frustating to see how the "mud slinging" is so important and not the actual problem. But then how would US - the supposed greatest country in the world be the "greatest country in the world". It is all about the charges and the $$ they are worth. Everything else can wait.

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  5. Ramesh, this is a typical case of "dharma adi". When something goes wrong somewhere, you will find people from all over the place, whether they are affected or not, come over to lynch the concerned party. There are 2 aspects to this: one, the innate sadism in people to see the other party get bumbooed and be a part of it; two, look for an opportunity to benefit from the other party's misfortune. This principle has been in practice since time immemorial. It can only get worse.

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  6. Oh,how i wish the US senate and other involved should read this article.
    Always the tendency is to show super power and save themselves

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  7. Of all the professions, how did politicians become this way, is beyond me. Its not even country specific. One can obviously make out that punishing BP is not the motive but showing off the Senate's power is.

    Also, one looks stupid by lampooning someone who is already repentant, in the same way as one would, an unapologetic rogue. Unfortunately, they didn't get that point even after the Toyota case.

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  8. Politicians have a job to keep and they will sell their souls to do it. I guess there is enough finger pointing at the government agency's link with the oil industry that every one wants to quickly distance themselves. You are right - that can wait. But there was a more heartening article in NYT on how many of the oil companies are cooperating very well to solve the problem regardless of their stance in Washington.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/science/18robot.html?hpw
    Haven't been able to comment more regularly - it's been busy...

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  9. @Blogueur - In today's world of instant media, its more importantn to be seen to be doing something than to actually do anything. Not just in the US - world over I'm afraid.

    @Durga - Brilliant analogy with dharma adi. Its precisely what it is.

    @ambulisamma - Your comment provoked a thought - True power is really only in the hands of somebody who doesn't use it.

    @Deepa - I wouldn't blame the politicians - they are merely the messenger. They behave this way because the voter expects them to behave this way. In today's politics of Rush Limbaugh on the right and Michael Moore on the left, only if you do such things will you get elected.

    @J - Yes, they have a job to do. I loved Saran Palin's (of drill baby drill fame) comment on this. When pushed to comment, she who's probably closest to big oil says, BP is bad because its a foreign company !! Thanks for the link ; its heartening that there are newspapers in the world that publish a fair story.

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  10. Now this is GILS Style.

    You have featured it like a tamil movie. the Senate is like the Nattamai, BP is the Vijayakant standing handfolded in front of him and all others are like the villian raising allegations on him and the Nattamai then giving a teerpu which BP silently accepts but still continues to work hard for the benefit of the village!!

    And we all say tamil movies are fictional!!

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  11. I agree to an extent with this post and not to some. There is an environmental disaster, no doubt. BP is working hard to fix the issue. Then there are the folks from MMS who did nothing on evaluating the project's environmental / disaster readiness and who accepted BP's proposal at face value that a project of this size cannot have an accident and hence environnmentally safe. But what is way odd is that the three folks involved point to each other as the 'responsible for disaster' messages which came out in the hearing. BP points at Halliburton/Transocean, Halliburton to Transocean and Transocean back to BP like some merry-go-round blame the next in line game. And there is no information flow from BP (at least to the media). There is now one more issue going around that there is a huge plume of oil at the depths that won't float to the surface as it is heavy and hence a huge environmental disaster and also that BP mis-represented the facts on the volume of oil gushing out of the wellhead. And it is also odd that BP never anticipated a critical failure of a rig of this size. Let the engineers do their job fixing the well and let the top brass fight the bad press appropriately. There are similes to the Toyota issue with PR. And I feel BP is not doing a good job at it. (Note: I am sitting in Obama-land now)

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  12. @Sandhya - Plizzz to join Gilsu and produce a Tamil movie together :)

    @RamMmm - Understand your position. Of course BP is not blameless. At the very least, there seems to be shortcuts on safety taken; at the very worst the safety design was faulty. The reason for all the blame game in the Senate hearing was simply to defend on legal liabilities - if you admit to the Senate that you are at fault you are virtually writing your own ticket to bankruptcy. I however believe that BP should not be distracted from solving the problem. Once that is done, subject them to whatever due process required.

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  13. Get the priorities right - very catchy title and what followed the title holds absolutely true in all walks of life.

    Reminds me of first reaction by Mr. Advani during the following eveing of 26/11. How could one even think of crucifying someone in the middle of raging war and horrifying chaos.

    On the second thought, why only politics... does not this happens elsewhere? On the streets, in the colleges, in the offices etc... sad but true!

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  14. @Vishal - Very true ; this human tendency does manifest itself in all walks of life.

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  15. kiwibloke20/5/10

    Contrarian view. I'm definitely not one of the bleedin hearts, left wing capitalism haters (exactly opposite of that!) But for oil companies like BP who have made zillions in profits,a deep sea well gushing out crude, is not a a question of if it would happen, but when it would happen. The kind of things that they have tried to use to cap off the well (dome, inverted dome, dome within a box etc) seems quite amateurish. Do you expect me to believe that such high tech (and drilling 4km into the ocean is really high tech)companies would not have invested in some research to mitigate a risk (albeit low in likelyhood, but catastrophic in impact) All the public dressing down of BP and what did Durga call it - "dharma adi?", is perfectly warranted

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  16. @kiwi - Mmmm Interesting. I am not voicing any opinion as to whether BP is originally at fault or not. Totally incompetent to judge that. But somehow it doesn't feel like their current attempts are amateurish. Whatever may be the cause. my argument is that you first solve the problem before launching into dharma adi .....

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