Obama's Oil Spill Dilemma

For the last fifteen years, I’ve been the operations manager for a small Gulf of Mexico oil and gas company. I’ve had more than a few sleepless nights in that time, whether it be worrying about a problem well, a reported accident or an impending hurricane. Since Barack Obama has assumed full accountability for the outcome of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I offer this advice as one who understands the nature, if not the scope, of the challenge facing him.


With all due respect, sir, rookies make rookie mistakes.

Mr. President, it’s really pretty simple:

  1. You must have the best and the brightest technical people working the problem.
  2. You must make sure that they are motivated to fulfill your goals.
  3. Above all, you must trust them to do a good job.

Engineers are smart and proud people and don’t like to be told how to do their jobs. It’s best if they recommend a solution; 99% of the time I accept their recommendation. The last thing I want to do is to send someone to do a job with a tool that he/she doesn’t believe in. Experience has taught me that the human urge to say “I told you so, boss” often overcomes the urge to succeed, especially if succeeding means telling the boss that he was right all along.

As for point #1, BP already has the best and the brightest working on controlling the source of the spill. They are working as hard as they can to fix the problem. Your mistake, sir, is that you are constitutionally unable to let go of the Lefty prejudice: Oil People Are Bad People. So you’ve a given us all this nonsense about “boots on the throat” and threatened prosecutions and pointing fingers at the finger-pointers, which has done nothing to enhance their confidence in you as a leader. Oh, they want badly to stop the spill, but their loyalty to you and your success is only as deep as the loyalty you’ve shown them.


And then, if you had a back up plan, it would be in knowledgeable Federal employees to take over. Your only source of oilfield-savvy professionals who might be capable of managing this task is in the MMS, and you’ve already thrown them under the bus! You’ve taken a couple of unrelated scandals (investigated, by the way, on President Bush’s watch), and a couple of wayward employees in a backwater office to build the oft-repeated notion of a ‘cozy, often corrupt relationship’ between MMS and the industry it regulates.

How many careers and reputations of good, dedicated public employees have you tarnished in the process? That’s the scandal.

By taking this tack, and deciding to forge ahead with reorganizing this agency before this crisis has been resolved, morale at MMS is at an all-time low. A good many of these folks probably voted for you, too.

A thought to consider: how many Federal agencies are free of the supposed “sins” that your auditors found at MMS? Does a ‘cozy relationship’ exist between, say, the Department of Labor and the SEIU? Has a Defense Department contract analyst ever written contract specs that only they could satisfy, post-retirement? We know that SEC staff surfed porn. The Congress? “Let he who is without sin…”, etc.


Or maybe the MMS/industry relationship reflected a mutual respect for the job each had to do. Just maybe.

Mr. President, I really want you to succeed, at least insofar as allaying Malia’s concern about “the hole”. But it looks like you’ve written off nearly every American (and Brit) who understands oilfield technology. Your Big-Hat-No-Cows Interior Secretary and your Nobel-Prize-Laureate Energy Secretary aren’t going to be much help to you now.

Face it: you need those Big Bad Oil People on your side, pulling for this thing to be fixed ASAP. Instead of rooting for you to fail.

Cross-posted at VladEnBlog.


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