Spill kills ‘myth of competence’

June 3, 2010


Now they’re saying August. August.

After a month and a half of “top kill” and “junk shot,” of chemical dispersants and high-tech domes, of skimmers and controlled burns, this is what we have to show for it. We are now told it may take another “two months” to stop oil from spewing into Gulf Coast waters. And that’s assuming no hurricane sweeps into the Gulf and forces temporary suspension of the effort to dig two relief wells.

The immediate consequences of the April 20 oil rig explosion that started all this have long been manifest. Eleven lives were lost. Oil spilled into our seas, wreaked havoc upon the various forms of fish, fowl and crustaceans for whom the ocean is home or feeding ground. The disaster also struck at the economic lifeblood of a region still trying to find its footing after being ransacked by Hurricane Katrina.

Weeks later, one other consequence becomes jarringly apparent: the Myth of Competence has died.

Meaning the belief that people who engage in high-risk activities — in this case, the ones who drill for oil 5,000 feet under the sea — know what they’re doing, that they have every contingency covered, that even their backup plans have backup plans. Surely this is what Sarah Palin was thinking when she chirped, “Drill, baby, drill!” Surely this is what President Barack Obama relied upon when he recently proposed to open new waters to oil exploration.

Anticipating protests from environmentalists, he even promised, that “we’ll employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. We’ll protect areas that are vital to tourism, the environment, and our national security.”

Three weeks later, the oil rig exploded. So far, that protection he promised has been nonexistent. That faith in new technologies he mentioned has proved misplaced. And “Drill, baby, drill!” has come to seem tinnier and more childish than ever — energy policy as schoolyard chant.

We have been disabused of the Myth of Competence, shorn of the belief that the people in charge are capable of handling any eventuality.

Instead, we have seen oil company executives passing the blame around like a hot potato. We have seen strategy after strategy announced in great hope, abandoned in grim resignation. We have seen days turn to weeks and weeks to months and now, apparently, months will turn to seasons. And still the oil flows.

Perhaps most damning of all, we have seen reports that the Minerals Management Service, the unit of the Interior Department whose job it is to police the oil companies, performed its duties with a shoddiness and inattention bordering on the criminal. We’re talking about allegations that MMS personnel accepted expensive gifts and entered sexual relationships with representatives of companies they were supposed to be regulating. And allowed those officials to fill out their own inspection forms. And ignored warnings from the government’s scientists about possible environmental impacts of opening certain areas to drilling.

Why not, after all? What’s the worst that could happen?

Nothing, unless you count up to 800,000 gallons of oil a day spilling into the sea.

The other day on CNN, they had one of those viewer participation segments where they asked people for their ideas of how to stem the leak. One individual suggested parking a Navy sub atop the well. I remember thinking it a silly idea, impractical for any number of reasons. Then you look at BP flailing around and you have to reconsider. How is that idea any less likely than the things the “experts” have tried without success?

If you hear a certain bitterness in my voice, well, I confess. I look at that ubiquitous video feed of oil gushing into Gulf waters and realize I took for granted that these people knew what they were doing and that they were being regulated by those who had the nation’s best interests at heart.

Obviously, I made a mistake.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


barrypenders 7 years, 10 months ago

The Pitts is involved with "Hate Speech" The Pitts goose is 'Gandering' 'Hateful' speech and needs to be 'Stopped' post haste.

Wednesday, 02 Jun 2010 03:14 PM Jim Meyers

A coalition of more than 30 mostly liberal organizations has sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to monitor “hate speech” on talk radio and cable news networks.

The groups assert in the letter that “hate, extremism and misinformation have been on the rise . . . as the media has focused on Arizona’s passage of one of the harshest pieces of anti-Latino legislation in this country’s history.”

The organizations include the Center for Media Justice, the Rainbow Push Coalition, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, and Common Cause.

“As traditional media have become less diverse and less competitive, they have also grown less responsible and less responsive to the communities that they are supposed to serve,” the letter states.

“In this same atmosphere hate speech thrives, as hate has developed as a profit-model for syndicated radio and cable television programs masquerading as ‘news.’”

The coalition did not mention any specific media outlets.

The groups also argue that the Internet has made it more difficult for the public to separate “the facts from bigotry masquerading as news,” The Hill newspaper reports.

The Internet “gives the illusion that news sources have increased, but in fact there are fewer journalists employed now than ever before,” according to the coalition.

“Moreover, on the Internet, speakers can hide in the cloak of anonymity, emboldened to say things that they may not say in the public eye.

“For these reasons, as the Commission deliberates how the public interest will be served in the digital age, it should consider the extent of hate speech in media, and its effects.”

Stimulus, Gandering PADs, and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all

michaelmoore 7 years, 10 months ago

The Lib Demos are taking a whipping in the primaries from Tea Party candidates thus far. They have to shut 'em up somehow.

John Kyle 7 years, 10 months ago

Uh, the 'Lib Demos' are not in any primaries with Tea Partiers. Of course, we can't expect a Tea Party supporter to know about those pesky things called facts.

MyName 7 years, 10 months ago

Just to repeat what queequeg said: you need to go back to H.S. and take (retake?) US Gov't. Because yeah... you don't have a clue.

madameX 7 years, 10 months ago

You probably are. But that doesn't mean that it's actually happening.

kansasredlegs 7 years, 10 months ago

Wouldn't say that he's turned on Obama but he did basically have him and Palin at the alter on the oil drilling issue. I can picture Obama standing at the alter with Palin saying "I do" to opening up more coastal water for "Drill, baby drill Palin and her Haliburton cronies.

Same sh*t, just different day is all.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 10 months ago

The oil well must be a RACIST! {isn't that Lenny's take on everything else?}

Stuart Evans 7 years, 10 months ago

ya, I'm confused. Is the oil attacking black people disproportionately? I've never seen L.Pitts go off topic like this.

whats_going_on 7 years, 10 months ago

"I'm proud to be American! THAT American, however, should be shot, because his opinions are not mine."


Flap Doodle 7 years, 10 months ago

"...kills ‘myth of competence’" So does this: “…The second-guessing of the White House political shop — which is coming in part from top House Democrats — was sparked anew late Wednesday by news that the White House tried and failed to coax another Democratic Senate candidate out of making his race by dangling administration jobs in front of him. In a possible repeat of the Joe Sestak episode in Pennsylvania, insurgent U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff of Colorado said deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina reached out to him — with a wince-inducing e-mail that is now public — with three possible jobs in September 2009. Obama wanted to keep him out of a race against Sen. Michael Bennet, the White House’s favored candidate. Taken together, the Sestak and Romanoff cases suggest a White House team that is one part Dick Daley, one part Barney Fife…” Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0610/38067.html#ixzz0pnP9vFWr

citizen0123 7 years, 10 months ago

why are they drilling so deep i ask. is it because the enviromentalists cry like babies if we try to drill where its safer? is it because everyone crys like a baby every time gas prices go up a penny? this spill is a disaster to be sure.if they had been allowed to drill closer to shore this accident would have been taken care of immediatly.but no,we cant let them mess up our view.we want a nice pretty view when we drive to the gas station. come up with a cure or QUIT WHINING.

MyName 7 years, 10 months ago

1) The "environmentalists" don't want you to drill anywhere, so complaining about their complaints is completely bogus.

2) Drilling closer to the shore would just mean more of the oil got on the beaches. It's the lack of oversight and the focus on quarterly reports that are in the driver's seat in this disaster.

3) Is it whining to point out how FUBAR things are and how the disaster could have been averted if they had done better inspections and put in an oil rig with a better shutoff valve?

But hey, whatever bromide gets you through the day. Clearly, "Drill Baby Drill" is an inherent truth so anything that contradicts that must have environmentalists manipulating the situation.

jafs 7 years, 10 months ago

Be less wasteful. Require that any companies engaged in possibly environmentally destructive activities have a clear and reliable plan for accidents. Implement any feasible alternative energy sources that don't deplete our non-renewable resources. Immediately increase fuel efficiency standards for all classes of automobiles. Implement tiered charges for utility/water bills to encourage conservation. Require all public buildings to turn the thermostats down to 67-68 in the winter and up to 75-76 in the summer.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 10 months ago

"I left my mother's basement long ago darlin'."

You can take the boy from the basement, but you can't take the basement from the boy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 10 months ago

Sorry you got injured, but with very, very few exceptions, there have been no military actions over at least the last 60 years that did anything to protect my rights to do anything. I'm sorry our leaders at the time you served chose to waste your time and the nation's wealth on whatever (likely pointless) military exercises they sent you on. And I regret that you honestly believe that your service did anything of value to me or anyone else (except oil companies and defense contractors.)

whats_going_on 7 years, 10 months ago

how long have you been dying to "brag" about that, lol.

For someone who used to work for the government, you sure don't know much about how it works.

beatrice 7 years, 10 months ago

Yes, let us learn that when ever something horrible faces America we must ALL look at it as a way to score political points. Who gives a damn about America, we should only care about our political party!

Pitts is correct. We have given too much faith to those who extract oil to correct any hazard that might arise. We now know that they can't, and the Gulf and all the people who live in those states near the shore are now screwed. This is horribly sad.

For those brainiacs blaming Obama, I've asked before, what would you have him do that he isn't doing? He really isn't capable of making a machine to cap the well, gather the oil, and then put on his cape and fly it all into outer space. Also, what would you have had him do BEFORE this corporate-made disaster struck? It isn't like he named a friend to head up the division overseeing oil drilling, then let people die through inaction. The eleven workers died, and nothing Obama could have done would have stopped that. If he was there 24/7 since, nothing he could do to stop the spill.

Please, if you are whining that this is Obama's fault or that this is his Katrina, please tell us how he should have fixed it.

If you can't name a solution yourself, then why not try being an American for once and giving a damn that we are facing the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history.

But no, of course this won't happen. Too many would rather score a political point from our collective disaster. This must be because your party has made your lives oh so much better.

jafs 7 years, 10 months ago

I generally agree, but Obama could have instructed Salazar to ensure that the MMS gave no environmental exemptions until a thorough review of disaster preparedness had been completed.

whats_going_on 7 years, 10 months ago


While I don't know if it could have been completely averted, I think both the company AND the govt could have been more prepared to handle it, in the event it did.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 10 months ago

Bea, I, too am tired of the "Obama's Katrina" blame game: Bush inserted the fuse and lit it by turning oversight of MMS to the companies they were supposed to be regulating and nurturing a culture of looking the other way by the MMS both in terms of oversight, collecting revenues, etc. To top it off, marine policies are regulated by segments of the government that are being paralyzed by the Republicans who are putting "silent holds" on Obama appointments to those agencies.

But when the whole thing blows up, it's Obama's fault because he didn't stomp out the fuse in time before it went off. Go figure.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 10 months ago

"Who gives a damn about America, we should only care about our political party!" That's a pretty good summation of what we heard from the sinister side of the aisle for the first 8 years of this century.

MyName 7 years, 10 months ago

Dude, you seriously need to put down the pipe, 'cause whatever your smoking, it isn't helping your reasoning skills at all.

jonas_opines 7 years, 10 months ago

"Unfortunately, I have responsibilities and could not stick around"

Not sure how well that jives with your 140 posts in less than a month.

jonas_opines 7 years, 10 months ago

It seems to make you feel better to match them.

John Kyle 7 years, 10 months ago

That's funny. You complain that Pitts is trying to keep race issues alive yet you then bring in your 'cherokee' heritage.

Centerville 7 years, 10 months ago

Hummm. Democrat White House, Democrat Senate, Democrat House, worst environmental disaster in nation's history. Figures.

beatrice 7 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Mike Hatch 7 years, 10 months ago

Nice name calling and just overall rudeness. Real nice. Anyone look in the mirror much?

beatrice 7 years, 10 months ago

Snap: " 'Who gives a damn about America, we should only care about our political party!' " "That's a pretty good summation of what we heard from the sinister side of the aisle for the first 8 years of this century."

And now, Snap, you are doing exactly what you call sinister when done by others. See how foolish you are? By the way, you aren't actually on the other side of an aisle. There is no aisle, because you aren't really in politics. You are just play the home version in your own mind.

George Lippencott 7 years, 10 months ago

Why is this a party issue? Could this be as simple as overconfidence in applting knowledge from one environment to another (drilling at 50 foot vs. drilling at a mile) without thinking about the differences??

riverdrifter 7 years, 10 months ago

All I can say is, the very same platform drilled the deepest well ever last September, 3800 feet of ocean depth, well depth from there to 35,050 ft., the deepest ever, to a giant discovery. A well 6.6 miles deep, drilled to a total depth of 7.4 miles, counting riser. That would get you from, roughly, 23rd and Iowa to the old Zarco corner to the south on US 59. Not a single problem. Nobody gave a damn. Note the 4 commenters in the middle of the night.


"Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 10 months ago

So, are you saying that BP well in the Gulf isn't really spilling thousands of barrels of oil a day, with no end in sight?

riverdrifter 7 years, 10 months ago

Of course not. It is spewing oil into the gulf. Sad but true. It must be stopped and steps must be taken to see that the reaccurance is minimized as much as possible.

Are you saying you're not going to be buying any fuel, using any NG, consuming any anything made of plastic tomorrow?

Let's just quit petro exploration altogether. Or let's buy even more of it from those who hate us.



jafs 7 years, 10 months ago

Why on earth couldn't this have been prevented?

If the agency in charge of issuing permits (MMS) hadn't given this project an environmental exemption and required clear and reliable methods of dealing with accidents before granting them the ability to drill, this most likely wouldn't have happened or the outcome would have been much less damaging.

We shouldn't accept that these things "just happen".

George Lippencott 7 years, 10 months ago

WELL JAFS, WE ARE ABOUT TO AGREE AGAIN. Just because we got away with drilling at great depth once or twice did not mean we knew how to deal with a blow out at that depth.

I would argue that before we drill again at this depth we should better understand how to deal with reasonable problems. We have probably learned a lot from this mistake and we need to make sure we apply thta information in the future.

Note, I said great depth. We need to develop our readily available resources to

  1. reduce dependency on others
  2. transition wisely to renewable energy

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