It has been over four weeks now since the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico started. There will be government investigations into what caused the accident and how it could have been prevented. Here are some things that we know for sure at this point.
There is no such thing as a fail-safe system. Engineers and experts have assured the public repeatedly that an accident of such magnitude could never happen or are very unlikely to happen. Well it happened. They have been proven wrong. In fact BP’s 582-page emergency plan entitled “BP Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan” dated June 30, 2009 does not contain specific plans to deal with this accident. There was no discussion on how to stop a deep water blowout. That’s why it has taken so long to stop the blowout.
The second thing we know is that too many emergency response plans contain a lot of fluff and extraneous material just to make them look bulky and impressive. One would have thought that a 582-page document would have covered all possible worst case scenarios. There is evidence that parts of the BP plan contain boilerplate languages used by BP worldwide. One example that has been cited by the press is that the BP plan actually lists walruses as among the Gulf of Mexico’s sensitive biological resources. We all know that walruses’ habitats are in the arctic and sub arctic regions. They do not live in the balmy waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that no one has caught this mistake in the plan during the review process should be a cause of concern. It tells us that the regulatory agencies responsible for reviewing the BP plan missed the mark by a wide margin.
So what does this 582 page plan tell us? Size does not matter. It is the content and specifically local contents that really count.
The valuable lesson we learn from this disaster is that next time we prepare a spill response plan or a contingency plan we need to focus on site-specific environmental conditions and not pad these plans with boilerplate languages and fluff.