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Tilting at Windmills

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June 5, 2010

WHERE THINGS STAND IN THE GULF.... There was some renewed optimism among officials trying to curtail the gushing oil in the Gulf yesterday, but as a rule, we've learned that progress can be fleeting -- we've seen optimism before, only to see hopes dashed.

But a cap was placed over the wellhead yesterday; it was sealed; and there was a fair amount of cheering.

BP and government officials said Friday that a cap installed over a gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico was funneling some oil and gas to the surface, but they cautioned that much was still leaking and that it would be days before they could declare this latest containment effort a success.

As the large metal cap was inched into place late Thursday, about 80 engineers, scientists and government officials crowded into the hive -- as the room in the subsea operations command center is called -- here to watch on video screens. The maneuver was their handiwork, and a critical step in the latest of what had been a string of dismal efforts to capture some of the oil leaking since the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded on April 20. [...]

The technician said the assembled crowd, which included workers from BP and other companies involved, was in "pretty good cheer" after the cap was successfully placed.

"But you have to temper all that right now because you don't know the final result," he said.

And even under the best scenario, the final result with this cap would collect some, but not all, of the gushing oil leak.

For now, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen estimated that the drill ship on the surface is collecting about 40,000 gallons a day worth of oil. That total, according to BP, is intended to increase as vents on the mechanism are closed (which is risky, because the increased pressure could blow the cap off). If all goes according to plan -- clearly, a big "if" -- the cap could contain 90% or more of the spill until relief wells are complete, probably in August.

Whether this latest effort is meeting expectations won't be clear for "several days."

Of course, President Obama was also on the scene yesterday, receiving additional updates on the federal response, and meeting with affected families and businesses. The president directed some pointed words towards BP for paying billions of dollars in stock dividends this week, on top of a expensive new p.r. campaign, while many locals still feel like they're being short-changed.

A pool report said Obama showed a "flash of anger" with BP, which is presumably what political reporters demand of the president, if the last couple of weeks of media bloviating are any indication. (Greg Sargent jokingly advised the president yesterday, "Kick something. Smash a camera with your bare hands. Vulcan Death Grip rhetoric just won't do.")

On that front, I'm glad to see at least some in the media rejecting the widely-embraced narrative.

Time's Kate Pickert noted late yesterday:

Count me among those who are a little bored with the media narrative that President Obama doesn't appear "angry" enough about the BP oil spill. Sure, symbolism is important in times like these and the public wants to know that its commander-in-chief is sufficiently engaged and cares about what's happening. But shouldn't the media focus something like 80% of its attention on what the federal government is actually doing and some portion of the remainder on whether the White House message machine is having a good or bad week? I haven't done a comprehensive study, but it feels like the opposite has been the case this week.

Similarly, the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus seems to have had about enough.

The presidency is not a play in two acts. The disaster in the Gulf is not six characters in search of a leader. So why the coverage of President Obama and the oil spill as theater criticism?

Is he angry? Is he enraged? Has he shown it? Is there a vein bulging in his neck?[...]

The real test is in the doing, not the showy symbolism.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Obama pales in comparison to Bush with his bullhorn, at least in the realm of ineffectual blowhard symbolism. Today bin Laden is still at large, and the fireman that Bush used as a prop is probably battling an illness or two resulting from Whitman declaring Ground Zero safe for rescue workers.
But the footage looks good, so they keep on running it.
MWO is out to pasture, but the Whores are working still.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on June 5, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

We are living in the age of Unintended Consequences.

"Hey, guys! Let's invade Iraq!

"Hey, guys! Let's drill in the Gulf!"

-And the follow-up?

"The oil will pay for the war!
"BP will pay for the clean-up!"

Posted by: DAY on June 5, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

The president who shows flashes of heat about matters which he finds deeply troubling , disturbs the gentle court side fawns and does , that the wrinkles near hid brow are too deep and glistening . This matter , which is not only deeply troubling , indicates a detachment from the hearts and minds of many of the gentle crowds of decent hard at work , haves and have mores . A warning signal has been dispatched from the convenience of the Potomac tents and pavilions , where the haves and have mores can be seen sweating over their life sustaining nerve tonics and other brews of various and delicious natures .
More detail should become available as the sun reaches its eastern horizon and a new batch of nerve and other various tonics replace that which was depleted in the heroic imbibing of yesterdays hard working haves and have mores .

Posted by: FRP on June 5, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Some of the best reporting on the oil gusher in the Gulf has come from Rachel Maddow. Some of the worst from Chris Matthews. The NBC science correspondent has done a good job.

Most of the crew at CNN have been horrible. They seem to be the principle source of the Obama as cold blooded Vulcan meme. I guess they don't like to work very hard. Focusing on Obama is just easier than explaining what is actually going on. Interestingly, the its Obama's fault crowd are losing the message war. Most people blame BP first, second and third. The other two corporations are skating right now.

I don't watch Fox News. How are they doing?

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 5, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps alone in this blog, I read several technical sites regarding the nature of the spill. One clarification:

1. Please do not call it a "seal". For a variety of technical reasons, the temporary collection system is not really sealed to the now cut off riser pipe. Nor should it be. Please know that the collection system will take several days to optimize, and this is a very hard technical problem. There will be oil spilling out until the well is completely killed from below.

2. The MSM has almost completely missed most of the technical aspects of the operation, which in turn, misses the bigger, more tragic story. Clearly there is a huge element of MEGO, but if there was ever a place for reporters to do their jobs, and dig, and work, hard, at finding the details of how this happened, and how and why the fixes were attempted, this is it. And, the MSM would have a field day in finding out how many very serious, very conservative petroleum types and extraordinarily critical and skeptical of, BP's efforts. They are also pissed because they know that their industry may never recover, and they blame BP. They are clearly working hard on the problem, but folks in the know have commented on the lack of real information, the mishandling of the press, the likely possibility of criminal negligence, the gross corporate malfeseance, and the various ramifications - do we hope for BP's demise? How do we make them pay for the devastation of a region? etc. are huge.

THe MSM seems to have misplaced their critical eye [well, we know that they mostly have lost it]. There are lot of data in the public domain already to show that BP made many wrong moves in the hours and minutes before the explosion, and if the MSM got beyond interviewing media whores like Matt Simmons and the doofus from Purdue, they would find some shocking, and scandalous, stuff. Two letters: BP.

Posted by: bigtuna on June 5, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

bigtuna, tell us more.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 5, 2010 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

Glad to hear some MSM people are denying the Obama isn't angry enough theme. It makes me frustrated to see MSM parrot it like mindless right wing echo chamber talking heads.

CNN is the worst because they try and pretend that they are neutral. If they were all fired and a replaced by a bunch of college kids then maybe people would actually watch them. Atleast the kids enthusiam would make them actually do some real reporting and interviewing.

The current crop of talking heads are a bunch of cynical fatcats who sit around and blab their mouths and pretend that they know what they are talking about and understand how real citizens are feeling.

Posted by: Mark on June 5, 2010 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Tangental to bigtuna's info, find a copy of "All the President's Men", and read/watch it to get some sense of what real investigative reporters used to do.

Today's MSM is little different from the supermarket tabloids.

Posted by: DAY on June 5, 2010 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

How can this disaster be about the President?

This ugly plume requires us all to rethink fossil-fuels, but not necessarily a hydro-carbon free energy future.

We search for the cure to cancer. Well how about looking into the effects of volatile, aromatic hydrocarbons on human health?

Toxic is what toxic is.

Instead of focusing on Obama, how about turning the spotlight on how energy secrets of the last administration haunt us today?

Where are the reports about the secret fleet of ROVs developed tax-free, etc.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on June 5, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

"For now, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen estimated that the drill ship on the surface is collecting about 40,000 gallons a day worth of oil."

As we now know, Adm. Allen works for BP and every word out of his mouth was spoon-fed to him by BP. His head would be empty otherwise. Therefore, the sentence should read:

"For now, BP spokesman Thad W. Allen estimated that the drill ship on the surface is collecting about 40,000 gallons a day worth of oil."

Posted by: Michael on June 5, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

I love how they switch between gallons and barrels to suit their purposes. Yes, 40,000 gallons sounds like a lot. But really, isn't that only about 1,000 barrels, which is 1/5 of their original estimate of the flow and probably 1/50 of what's actually gushing into the gulf?

Those vents better fucking work, and soon.

As for Obama's emotional state, I don't care if he's yawning while he fires Ken Salazar and freezes BP's assets. I don't care how feels, I want to know what he DOES.

BP should be left responsible for closing the well, because they have the technology. But the government should take over and amplify the clean-up effort, and should be using BP's checkbook to do it. The first money used should be that $10 billion dividend they want to declare. THAT's sending a message.

Posted by: bdop4 on June 5, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

40,000 gallons a day captured sounds pretty good, until you realize this is only about 1000 barrels, and it is estimated that at least 12,000 to 19,000 barrels are leaking. And it's probably a good deal more that that!

Posted by: winddancer on June 5, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

We all know by now what to expect from our media. Policy is HARD! Technical problems with capping an oil well are too much like high school science class! It's so much more fun to have serious discussions about whether someone is elitist for ordering orange juice instead of coffee. With all that was at stake in the 2008 elections, you never heard any "pundit" discussing any issue more serious than the price of haircuts. A candidate can make clear public statements of his policies and programs, but the only item on the news will be the color of his tie. And Maureen Dowd has been screaming with frustration for three years that Obama won't do more screaming. She told us for an absolute certainty that he couldn't beat Hillary Clinton if he didn't act tougher. Then she said he didn't stand a chance against McCain for the same reason. She hasn't yet figured out that she's wrong, but she'll keep repeating it, because -- horrors, you don't expect someone of her mighty stature to dirty her aristocratic hands working to learn something about environmental policy or welfare, do you? That's for lowly peasants at the city desk, you know, like those peons at the Washington Post back in 1974.

Posted by: T-Rex on June 5, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

BigTuna - I've been reading a technical blog as well, perhaps the same one you are. For people's info, check out "The Oil Drum."


Posted by: winddancer on June 5, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Before anybody complains that this just proves BP only cares about siphoning off as much of the oil as they can (nobody has in this thread, but the remark has been made in just about every other spill thread), keep in mind:

1. As mentioned by both the main post and bigtuna, nothing is going to stop the oil from flowing at this point except the relief wells. The "top kill" maneuver was their last chance to seal the original well completely and it failed. It will be another 2-3 months, minimum, before the relief wells are in place.

2. Any attempt to seal the well completely at or above where the riser pipe exits the sea floor is certain to fail due to the high pressure which the leaking oil and gas are under.

3. Similarly, BP must siphon off as much oil as possible to relieve that pressure to keep the just placed cap from being pushed off the end of the pipe as they close down the vents. Every barrel they pump into a tanker at the surface represents at least a barrel (maybe more) that doesn't end up in the ocean.

4. Obviously, given all of the above, the apparent success, so far, of the capping operation is very good news. However, at best, it will only slow the rate of the ongoing damage, not stop it.

Posted by: tanstaafl on June 5, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I had CNN on yesterday afternoon and they were "reporting" on the fact that Obama's caravan to wherever he was going to shake hands and demonstrate his concern for the little folks was going to arrive too late to make the evening news.

I mean, this went on for some minutes, with the reporter speaking in quite serious tones and the anchor probing him on this deplorable state of affairs.

Cap device? Not mentioned.

Posted by: SteveE on June 5, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

A big story the Big Media should be spending much more energy on is how BP has been preventing the media from covering the story, blocking workers from sharing photos of oil-soaked animals, and so forth. Mother Jones, in contrast, is one outlet that has been all over the story of media blocking. Since this is a national emergency -- and doesn't involve national secrets like spies or military technology -- the Obama admin should require that BP (and their bought-off local govt officials and subsidiaries) let the media go anywhere they want, talk to anyone they want.

Posted by: meander on June 5, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

40,000 gallons a day captured sounds pretty good, until you realize this is only about 1000 barrels, and it is estimated that at least 12,000 to 19,000 barrels are leaking.

Even only 1,000 barrels/day is good news because it's a sort of Proof of Concept. If they can't increase it over the next week, it'll be another huge disappointment. But it's a start; let's not dump on it before they've have a chance to maximize it.

Posted by: Swift Loris on June 5, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

For people's info, check out "The Oil Drum."

I've been hanging out there too. I was astounded at how much there is to know about this operation, and how little of it is getting out.

Goodness knows reading TheOilDrum hasn't made me an expert, but at least I have a better idea of how much I don't know, and I've picked up some of the basics that far too few people are yet aware of.

Crticizing BP is fine, but criticize it for the right reasons, because that's the only way the criticism will have a positive effect.

Posted by: Swift Loris on June 5, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Winddancer is on to me. The Oil Drum is a source for real information. It has been overwhelmed in recent days by many techno phobes, but there has been some very insightful analyses on the documents that have come out in the various hearings, and from other data. The huge number of comments, questions, and ideas [some truly inane and unworkable] tends to bury the leads, but there are some very keen concepts discussed there. The issue is that much of the nitty gritty is very detailed stuff, and one needs a mole or a translator - ie, someone who can explain the difference between a choke and kill line; liner vs. casing, pressure losses due to turbulent flow - you get the idea.

Behind it, though, are very credible people who point to a series of decisions made along the line that led to this disaster. The tricky part of any real journalist/ investigator /hearing/lawsuit will be to find credible people to examine the data carefully and in a nonbiased way. Practically any professor of petroleum engineering has very close ties to industry, lives in a state whose income depends on oil, and/or will be reluctant to come public or testify; most any private consulting pet. engineer will have worked for BP, or can have their charater impuned for working for/with/agianst - Fill in name of company here.

As with most large technology "failures" it will come out that it is a series of human decisions, missed communications, bad judgements, and complacency that caused this. It is widely known that BP had not cleaned up their act since the TExas City explosion, and Jon Stewart nailed them wrt their workplace violations, in the context of all majors. I am sure every oil co. is re-examining every contract they have with BP.

In the end machines "failed" or "didn't work" because people expected too much from them, or decided to put them into operation too late, or not at all. Again, whether Obama is mad, or sweating, etc. is completely off the mark. Like deepthroat said - follow the money ....

Posted by: bigtuna on June 5, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

the Obama admin should require that BP (and their bought-off local govt officials and subsidiaries) let the media go anywhere they want, talk to anyone they want.

Consistent, that is, with safety and (to a lesser extent) efficiency, both for the reporters and the folks doing all the work. The Coast Guard and other official entities should be required to explain the basis for any restrictions they impose in the interests of safety and efficiency.

The situation has apparently improved significantly since the initial Mother Jones reports, BTW.

Posted by: Swift Loris on June 5, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

One more diatribe.

BTW, the Obama admin. is missing some real opportunities here. Most people in industry feel the 6 mo. moratorium is too long; 3 mos., was probably enough, realizing that LOTS of people will be out of work. A response couched strongly in the frame of "we need to make sure that all safetly standards are met, blah blah blah" AND to realize that like it or not, oil&gas still provides [too much] energy- and the widgets, pipe, etc. are mostly American made, designed etc. with many many jobs for Americans. There is a great opportunity to "meet" with "leading" oil co. types to "emphasize" the president's committment to a new energy future that also has "the safety of the workers and American people foremost" in his mind; and that he looks forward to "continued dialog to ensure that O&G production in the US is as safe as it can be" blah blah blah. Ie, outflank em when they are down, and shut the morons like Rick Perry and Tom Coburn up, or at least make it harder for them to spin their crazy ideas that 'accidents happen' because its God's way, or some such crap.

Posted by: bigtuna on June 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

A pool report said Obama showed a "flash of anger" with BP, which is presumably what political reporters demand of the president, if the last couple of weeks of media bloviating are any indication. (Greg Sargent jokingly advised the president yesterday, "Kick something. Smash a camera with your bare hands. Vulcan Death Grip rhetoric just won't do.")

Media behavior is always questionable even in the best of times but over the past few weeks they have outdone themselves. And I am talking the non Fox media. Every nite, A. Cooper looks like he is about to go into convulsions over the spill and Olbermann acts like he is having an O'Reilly fit. These days, I can only handle Maddow and Brian Williams.

Posted by: ted on June 5, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

"The real test is in the doing"

Things I'd like to see Obama "do":

-> Repudiate his right-wing Corporatism that is at the root of his hiring sell-outs like Ken Salazar to oversee the governments Departments.

-> Fire Ken Salazar.

-> STOP lying about a 'moratorium' on drilling and actual implement a moratorium.

-> Take responsibility for continuing the 'cozy relationship' between dirty energy Corporations and the 'revolving door' of government overseers.

-> STOP the 'cozy relationships' and STOP the 'revolving doors'.

-> Put BP's CEO in prison.

-> Put BP in receivership (before they hand out billions more to their investors).

-> STOP censoring photographers.

-> Make a "Vulcan Death Grip" rhetorical argument that this is a perfect example of why we need to STOP the offensive takeover of our government by corrupt international Corporations and their 'cash whipped' government lackeys (see: Salazar) and a perfect example of why the government NEEDS to be large enough and powerful enough to protect America (America's waterways, sea-lanes, coastlines, coasts, wetlands, parks, fishing industries, coastal tourist zones, and American's health) from toxic Corporate predators.

Posted by: Annoyed on June 5, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

@ wind dancer

Oil Drum is very good. I have been following it as well.

Posted by: ted on June 5, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

RE: Kate Pickert's otherwise fine comments.

"...the public wants to know that its commander-in-chief is sufficiently engaged and cares about what's happening."

I get so tired of this nonsense. "The public" does not have a commander-in-chief in this country. The President is Constitutionally designated CiC of the military. Period. Not of the nation or the public. And the distinction matters. A lot.

Posted by: oaguabonita on June 5, 2010 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Swift Loris, at other thread what I meant was, there are various issues including whether BP will be honest about safety, disposal of the material etc. And the point isn't whether they make as much money off processing the stuff as they lose, but the very fact we should know what's going on. And sure, I'd rather they be able to recover it, even rather they be able to recover all the oil and just sell it like they were before. It doesn't help us for them not to earn money, I know that - we should just keep an eagle eye on what they do in all respects. Finally, I also said not to boycott the BP retail stations since that hurts the peons there, and - get this - I'd rather BP earn money, the better to pay fines with.

Posted by: neil b. on June 5, 2010 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

@neil b.--agree we need to keep a close eye on BP. Also agree we shouldn't be interfering with BP's ability to make money, just making sure it goes to paying for this catastrophe. The consumer boycott is just plain dumb, a waste of energy (so to speak). As you say, it hurts the little guy, not BP.

Posted by: Swift Loris on June 5, 2010 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

"...Posted by: oaguabonita on June 5, 2010 at 1:52 PM "

Thank you for making that point. Can't repeat it enough. He is our president not CiC. That is only for military operations not civil rights or the economy etc. Thanks again.

Posted by: bjobotts on June 5, 2010 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Mr. Benen for writing what SO MANY of us are feeling.

President Obama did not plan or did not cause the BP oil spill PERIOD. He is trying to deal with the aftermath of BP's accident and of the aftermath of events that started to tail spin before he ever got into office.

Posted by: CRussell on June 6, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

This leak is not political and will continue to damage the environment no matter how much Obama is beat up on for his culpability or how much BP is beat up for their culpability.

Each of us needs to answer the question of whether we *really* want the leaked stopped as soon as possible, or if - deep inside - we may, just a little, want it to continue. Because the longer the problem lasts the bigger the club we have to beat the political opposition with.

And all too many of us have come to define a significant portion of ourselves by how good it makes us feel beat on our political enemies. Beating up on Obama or beating up on BP/big-oil - depending of course on your personal political orientation has become an ingrained, important behavior in all too many of us.

In a just and right world, there would be no politics involved in stopping the leak and repairing the damage. Everyone would stand side-by-side without regard to something as truly superfluous as political orientation, and work together simply because it is the best and quickest way to do the right thing and get the job done.

But getting real, this is America in the early 21st century where we have politicized everything and made finding and implementing real solutions for society as difficult as possible - and in an increasing number of cases, downright impossible.

Our society and corresponding level of civilized behavior is devolving rapidly.

Now, quick: Whose fault is it?

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