Harrison Schmidt – Obama administration "may want BP to fail for their own ideological reasons"

In another brilliant “it’s about damn time” exposition, Apollo 17 astronaut and former US Senator from New Mexico Harrison Schmidt unloads on the Obama Administration with respect to its bungling of the Deep Horizon oil spill:

The response after an oxygen tank explosion in the Apollo 13 spacecraft on its way to the Moon illustrates how complex technical accidents should be handled. It stands in sharp contrast to the Gulf fiasco. Solve the problem first; then investigate objectively; apply the lessons; and then, if absolutely necessary, worry about responsibility.

Nothing in the government’s response to the blowout explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and its aftermath bears any resemblance to the response to the Apollo 13 situation by NASA and its mission control team at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

Gene Kranz and his Apollo 13 flight controllers and engineers worked on the assumption that “failure was not an option.” In contrast, President Obama and those claiming to have been on top of the Gulf oil spill situation “from day one” assumed that failure is an option and, indeed, may want BP to fail for their own ideological reasons. Whatever their motives, the president and his cabinet officers, without any experience in real-world management of anything major, much less a crisis, have no idea how to deal with a situation as technically complex as the Gulf oil spill.

It has been left to BP engineers and managers and to Gulf state officials to respond as best they can in a regulatory environment that is politically charged, incompetent, fearful, and hesitant. Rather than allowing BP to stay focused only on solving the problems of the spill, Attorney General Holder now has launched a civil and criminal investigation! And let’s then follow with sending an unsupported bill to BP for $69 billion! For good measure, lets also stop offshore oil exploration by the United States. How misguided (or ignorant and devious) can our president be! (emphasis added)

Schmidt then uses the tragic 1967 Apollo 1 fire as an example of how the government should handle this kind of ordeal. Three astronauts died because an unfortunate combination of faulty wiring and an unforeseen combination of circumstances left them trapped in a space capsule filled with flammable materials in a pure oxygen atmosphere, with no emergency escape system. NASA thoroughly investigated the fire and subsequently implemented numerous engineering and safety system changes in the design of the Apollo spacecraft.

While there were those in the government who used the Apollo 1 fire to question the necessity of the moon landing program, the government generally stayed out of NASA’s way during the investigation and correction phases, and only opened its own investigation after the fire had been thoroughly analyzed and engineers were fairly certain about what had gone wrong.

It is highly probable that the Deep Horizon blowout was similarly caused by one or more faulty pieces of equipment combined with a series of unforeseen events that caught engineers and managers by surprise (along with an apparently complex chain of command that broke down when critical team members were either lost or could not be reached in the panic that followed the initial explosion).

A thorough investigation of the Deep Horizon blowout must involve difficult questions that, undoubtedly, many people will not want answered: Why did so many safety systems fail? If BP was drilling at extreme water depths, why were they unprepared to handle a blowout at those depths? Why was government oversight of deep water drilling so lax? Why was the Coast Guard, which has been given primacy to act as first responder to maritime oil spills, unprepared and under-equipped to deal with the blowout? And finally, why are we drilling hundreds of miles offshore in water a mile deep, when so many offshore oil reserves that could be reached with far less risk remain under exploration bans?

Because President Obama is the most fiercely anti-business President in my lifetime (crony capitalism and Chicago-style boodle being notable exceptions) it is difficult to trust his administration with conducting an impartial investigation, and with recommending “solutions” that are in the best interests of the nation at large, rather than a shadowy conglomeration of environmental activists and would-be green energy tycoons. Let’s just hope that the price we all will pay for this accident is not too great.

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