An environmental engineer’s perspective on the BP oil spill

I received what follows from a very good friend who, it just so happens, is an environmental engineer. It is more than thought provoking.  Pay particular attention to the second and third paragraphs.

“As I’ve said before, with every crisis, government has to have a villain to present to the people in order to deflect the voters ire away from government itself.

Most educated people are aware that it was the current administration that granted BP the drilling permit.  But what most people don’t understand is exactly what goes into granting a permit of this nature.  Most of the tax dollars that pour into government agencies like the EPA and the Department of the Interior go to permitting and enforcement.  The people responsible for these activities are not simply clerks and secretaries.  They are licensed professionals. like engineers, geologists, biologists, and risk assessors.  And, the permits they review are not simple 10 page application forms, they are multi-disciplinary, multi-volume sets consisting of engineering drawings, charts, maps, logs, calculations, specifications, procedures, etc., that are supposed to contain any and all information necessary for the government reviewers to ascertain whether or not the proposed project will be carried our safely according to regulations and professional standards.

In essence, anything that the applicant knows, the government reviewers are supposed to know.  If something is missing, the reviewers have the responsibility to ask for it.  As an EPA reviewer explained to me once, “when I sign off on your application, I am taking on just as much responsibility as you, it is my job to make sure that you haven’t missed anything”.

That is why these government departments and agencies have such large budgets.  If the reviewers are simply rubber stamping the applications, there is no need for the reviewers, and the taxpayers should be getting a refund.

So, as oil washes up on our shores and cleanup costs mount, it is fine for us to send the bill to BP, but shouldn’t we also be asking our government why this permit was approved in the first place?  If, as the President says, BP understated the risks, wasn’t it the government’s responsibility to ascertain that prior to granting the permit?  If, as the President says, BP did not have the resources on hand to manage the spill, wasn’t it the government’s responsibility to assess that prior to granting the permit?  And, if BP or one of their contractors were taking shortcuts, where were the government inspectors when the shortcuts were taken?

What exactly, are we paying these people for?

Maybe that is why the President is so interested in focusing all attention on BP.  Or, maybe he just doesn’t know any better.”

Humm, definitely an interesting perspective.

5 replies
  1. Erik Blazynski
    Erik Blazynski says:

    For a long time in my life I thought that government should just stay out of everything. Then I realize that you need some regulation. These regulations are enforced by regulators. Regulators have become lazy and corrupt. You see this the our bank regulators, our securities regulators, and now our environmental regulators. Each time we see a disaster it is because regulators fail. We need to publicly embarrass these regulators. Not the offices of the regulators, but the actual regulators, the people. Line them up on stage at the superdome. Let them explain to the people what went wrong. Obama said that he was going to lift the hood and call people out personally. How about the SEC people that let the Madoff thing happen? Any of them get fired? How about the bank regulators that were purchased, did they get fired? Probably not. They should be brought to the coliseum and fed to the lions.

  2. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    SOS and Erik, Thanks, as always I learn so much from Radio Vice Online. Does this administration take any responsibility for their actions? I thought I was educated, but I did not know this administration granted the drilling right! I swear, I try and try but this administration is a steady drumbeat of incompetence and ignorance, you can't keep up! I have been furious with Franks and Dodd and there is NO HEAT on them. Remember November.


  3. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Oversight is good, but with restraint (oversight of the overseers?).? When it is used as an excuse for pols to micromanage, tax excessively and ignorantly interfere in the proper running of a business, then it has gone over to the “dark side”.?? Which, unfortunately, is where we find most politicians.

    • Lynn
      Lynn says:

      As always, you are right Dimsdale. I want no more overseers, I demand that the ones we have see once. While we are at it, let's get rid of all the layer of overseers and leave just one competent regulater staff.

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