The latest of BP's ideas to stop the flow of oil, the so-called "top kill", has failed and the next one is a last-ditch cap containment system that virtually nobody is sure will work.
BP has abandoned its most recent "top kill" effort to contain its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, a company official announced Saturday evening.
"After three full days, we have been unable to overcome the flow," said the company's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles at a news conference in Robert, La. ". . . This scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, or the fact that we haven't succeeded so far."
"So engineers and experts have explored a variety of alternatives to stop the leak now," President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday evening. "They had hoped that the top kill approach attempted this week would halt the flow of oil and gas currently escaping from the seafloor. But while we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked."
I was looking at that "variety of alternatives" and something struck me about it: in none of them is the integrity of the well threatened.
The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures. First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill.
On land, one of the earliest forms of stopping an oil leak or fire was to blow up the well - bury it under thousands of tons of dirt and rock. It invariably succeeded, although it usually meant the well had to be abandoned. I'm not necessarily suggesting that the well in the Gulf should be bombed. What struck me was the difference in the types of response: in the first, you close off the well at any cost, even if it means losing the oil; in the second, it seems to me, there is no real sense of urgency, of do or die. The techniques being used seem to be less about stopping the oil than about saving the well.
So now I'm asking myself: Is it possible that BP could have stopped the spill weeks ago if they'd been willing to destroy the well? Are we suffering the worst environmental disaster in history just so BP can maintain the integrity of the well and return one day to work it again?
The horror here is that after BP's lengthy rap sheet of industrial accident, deaths, explosions, safety violations, and mania for profits over anything else, I can't rule out the possibility that they care less about the massive damage than they do about a hell-or-high-water determination to get money out of this hole. Someday.
This company needs to be shut down. It's a danger to the entire planet.