I was packing up my stuff and getting ready to leave my job offshore when the Challenger blew up. Like everyone else, I stared at the TV in disbelief, hoping the people inside were already dead, because there didn't seem to be anything but a fiery death in store for anyone inside that shuttle. As we all know now, there had been trouble with the seals on the solid fueled rocket engines, and some of the engineers had argued against launching on such a cold day, since they had data that suggested cold weather made the seal problem worse.
NASA insisted that the launch go off on schedule, because they were running behind. This was the first sign that NASA had forgotten that EVERY flight of the shuttle is a test flight, and schedules have no place in a test flight. You go when you are ready. Peoples lives depend on your being ready. There is always a risk when you are pushing technology as hard as you can, and all the people selected as astronauts understood that risk. They depended upon the engineers and specialists who were needed to keep their safety foremost in all their decision making. It was the least you can do for someone risking their life on your behalf, and we let them down.
The people who worry about schedules and how things look had assumed control, and overruled their own experts in going ahead and launching on a day that would make the whole enterprise riskier. BP, and maybe all the Oil Companies pushing drilling technology to it's limits seem to have forgotten that there is risk attached to what they are doing. And just as there is nothing you can do for those astronauts once those solid fueled rockets are ignited should there be a failure, there is nothing we can do to fix anything that goes wrong in five thousand feet of water. The eleven who died on the surface were doomed once BP decided to ignore their own experts and proceed with nothing but a half-assed test to reassure them that it was ok to go ahead with nothing but seawater holding that well back.
I would love to bash Halliburton for their part in this fiasco, because they have it coming for other sins too numerous to mention, but a fair percentage of cement jobs fail no matter who does it. It's a fact of life. That's why the leak test is so important, whether someone from MMS is looking over your shoulder or not. Lives depend on it. Schedules don't so important, in retrospect.
To the extent that "practical" concerns, like our voracious appetite for oil, drive us to look for oil in all the wrong places, we all probably have a small share of the blame. While I drive a reasonably economical car, I have a motorcycle that makes wonderful sounds, at least to me, and goes like hell. I like that too, and would be a small part of the problem even if I had worked in a profession that had nothing to do with oil. We are all users, and might as well just admit it. We live in the OIl Age, when the things we eat, sit on, and use to keep us comfortable all have something to do with oil, and it isn't going to change overnight.
In retrospect, it seems clear that we never had any idea what we would do if something went wrong that far under the ocean. We shouldn't be drilling any place where we can't send a human to intervene if things go sideways. We may have to come to terms with the idea that there is some oil that we just aren't going to get-maybe ever, and act accordingly. That's probably the lesson we should take from this disaster, but it's anybody's guess what we will do collectively once the mess is cleaned up and memories recede.
Causes David Beemer Supports
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