How Important Is Being Prepared?

If you, like many, assume that worst-case scenarios are so unlikely that you see no need to plan for them, well, you are probably a pretty typical person. So please apply now for a job at BP. You will fit right in. Get used to that jolly, chin up British optimism. Puff up that resume, use words like “robust” and “confident” and “compliant” and “resilient.” Call me when you get the job.

Wyoming connection: I spent a few years in the Boy Scouts in Wyoming. Every May we camped outside of Dayton in drenching rainstorms, and In July we camped in the Big Horn Mountains at Camp Elakawee. I made it to Life Scout before bagging the program to take up antiwar protesting. I believed in being prepared — the scout motto. Camping and antiwar protesting were consistent with that theme.

Everything in the world moves faster and many things happen on a scale not imaginable 40 years ago. Conoco merges with Phillips, Texaco merges with Chevron, BP changes its name from British Petroleum to Big Pineapple and swallows Amoco. Big Pharma gets bigger, banks become too big to fail, Al Gore becomes just plain too big, expletives are no longer banned by the FCC (boy, relaxing that rule would have been handy when George W. was President), Michelle Obama deplores inner city children getting too big (right on, Michelle, you go!!!).

Back to the point, preparedness fans.

On a big graveled lot off Sinclair Street, near Highway 59, the main highway to get to the coal mines and the railroads south of Gillette, sits a fleet of huge semi-trailer flatbed trucks, all with extra load-bearing axles. These trucks are pointed toward the quickest way out. Every trailer is carrying a large bulldozer or track excavator, many of which are equipped with special tools. We are looking at many millions of dollars worth of trucks and heavy equipment, all poised to roll on a moment’s notice.

This fleet is set up to respond to a potential derailment of coal trains. Derailment of a train or two might block dozens of following trains hauling millions of tons of coal. This has happened, and the lawsuits are still reverberating.

Imagine this: A fleet of gleaming new trucks loaded with gorgeous new D6 and D7 bulldozers, parked for years, awaiting the call. The standby costs are paid by the railroads.

Next, imagine this: BP was hiring Transocean for $500,000 per day to drill wells in 5,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. Other companies are hiring Transocean and Diamond Offshore and other drillers to set up their GPS-directed multi-million dollar rigs to drill comparable wells.

They rent multi-million dollar blowout preventers from Cameron, or some other company. They hire some idiot consultants to photocopy a spill plan from Alaska, engraft a catchy cover, and blow it past the sleeping gate guards at Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement). There is no spill containment plan in the Gulf.

In Gillette, Wyoming, there is a big fleet of new trucks and new bulldozers ready to deal with a crisis which really does not meet a definition of crisis compared to a big Gulf spill. Why were not barges loaded with emergency response devices, tools, booms, parked and waiting, on the Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi coastal areas before the BP spill?

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  1. RT, You are on it four square. The lack of emergency preparedness in the Gulf is really startling. However, given the sense that the blowout preventer was a failsafe device, that the crews on the drill rigs were beyond reproach and that the federal agencies regulating the operations were on top of it, it is not surprising what we ended up with, a frigging disaster that will keep on giving.