Friday, May 14, 2010

Scale and perspective II

The title of this post harkens back to a previous example of stellar corporate governance.  Today the CEO of BP made the statement that "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume". While that is literally true, as a physicist I have to ask, is that the right metric? I mean, are we worried about the total fraction of Gulf of Mexico that is oil? No, because everyone knows that the relevant point of comparison is not the total volume of water, but the point at which the oil content is having catastrophic effects on the environment.  We can gain some perspective by comparing with other oil spills. According to experts who have viewed the (long delayed by BP) video of the leak, the flow rate of oil is somewhere around 70000 barrels a day, or about 1 Exxon Valdez disaster (I think everyone sane agrees that it was a real mess) every four days. This has been going on for three weeks. Arguing that "the ocean is really big so this isn't that much of a problem" is just wrong.

update:  It's increasingly clear that BP is far more worried about their liability than about actually fixing the problem.  Check out this quote from the NY Times:  

BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

“The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.” 

Right, because good engineering solutions have nothing at all to do with accurately understanding the problem you're trying to solve. Idiots.


DanM said...

No, it's not wrong. It's ass-covering, which as we all know is the highest and most well-regarded form of public speech.

Douglas Natelson said...

I disagree. Ass-covering by a CEO would be saying something that would reduce BP's (financial) culpability, not saying something that makes it clear that they don't appreciate how badly they've screwed up.

DanM said...

Oh, ok, they're just idiots. I can't argue. But I bet they were at least trying to ass-cover.

Uncle Al said...

Localized introduction of petroleum plus dispersant into a pseudo-bounded ecosystem deficient in organic carbon inputs offers the opportunity to study nutrient-deconfined species' diversity and proliferation outside academic metrics of delimited perturbation stochastics.

If BP had real cajones it would demand Washington $billion funding for emplacing its Deep Underwater Megawatt Burn Arc Scrubbing System. Generator and compressor are biodiesel-powered. What could go wrong with 5000 psi oxygen fed through hollow DC arc electrodes into a 50,000 bbl/day petroleum plume?

CarlBrannen said...

Expecting a CEO to talk intelligently about the BP disaster would be like expecting the president of the university you work at to talk intelligently on the topic of your latest research.

The purpose behind management is to have someone who can make rational decisions as to what color to paint the executive washroom. They also solve the problem of what to do with the excess payroll cash obtained by being stingy with the other employees. They also satisfy the human tribal necessity of kowtowing to a leader. And when something goes wrong, they're convenient to have around as a sacrificial goat.

rob said...

but...but...but i saw a BP commercial that showed they are a green company and care for the environment. they got a pretty flower logo!

i have a BP station 1 block away, but now go to SA 1 mile away cause BP is not fixing/admitting/taking responsibility/lying about the problem.

they won't be getting my $50/wk 'til they fix the problem and spend billions supporting the environment. and i mean billions.