Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Now I know what Ford Prefect felt like at the start of Douglas Adams' opus

"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning
office for the last nine month."

"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see
them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your
way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually
telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display ..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find

"That's the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom
of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a
sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams

Why do I know how Prefect felt? Because I read this. If the BP bulldozer of a blow-out hadn't occurred this change in the regulations would have stayed in the dark, in the cellar without any stairs. Changes such as this:

Canadian regulators relaxed offshore drilling regulations late last year, giving the energy industry more flexibility when putting in place safeguards against oil spills.

Previously, companies were required to install specific kinds of equipment, such as safety valves and blowout preventers. The old regulations outlined everything from how companies should cement the casing on an oil well, to how they should conduct pressure tests.

Under the new regulations, which came into force in December, well operators must set environmental-protection goals, list the equipment they will use to achieve those goals and disclose their plans for inspecting, testing and maintaining such gear. But they are not required to install specific equipment.

Just what we need. Another example of the doctrinaire conservative dogma that industry be allowed to regulate itself. "The operator will take all the necessary precautions because it is in their own best interests to avoid the costs of a blow-out. All hail Adam Smith." This sort of nonsense leads to pap such as expressed here:

A spokeswoman for the National Energy Board said the new regulations represent a "modern" approach that allows companies to use different environmental-protection technologies, depending on the nature of the project.

"What if we were to specify that there must be a blowout preventer, and some innovation comes along where there's actually something better?" said Sarah Kiley. "A goal-based approach allows for innovation, that technology advancement."

I have no idea who Sarah Kiley is but I have been involved in the drilling of several wells and while I am not an engineer, I am certain that there is nothing on the horizon that can replace a BOP. Sure something might come along. Just write the regulations to take that into account.

The people in charge of getting the wells drilled are, as a whole, good well meaning people. But their job is to cut pennies from multi-million dollar drilling programs. But they will obey the rules. If they need to have precautions in place, these intelligent professionals will do so in the most cost effective way possible. But if they can cut costs by being able to self-regulate they will. They will assume the calculated risks. The counter argument is that the costs of a blow-out are so onerous, it is in their own best Smithian interests to take the precautions.

"But regulations increase costs and make us uncompetitive." Then leave them under the sea floor until the price justifies the risk.

But if the exploration companies are able to stall and negotiate down to ten percent of the initial penalty, it makes sense to take the chances and cut the safety corners. Most of the time people doing their best will manage to avoid catastrophe. But eliminating regulations will in the aggregate lead to more disasters that no one wants.

And in the end, the victim of this unintended consequences is you, me, our kids, the sea life and everyone else.

This isn't any easier to take if you don't have a hangover.
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