Some not-so-random thoughts

Spent the month of May on a midnight-to-noon, 7-days-a-week work schedule as we were throwing everything we could think of at the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Note that I do NOT work for BP. I work for a company that makes tools to fix broken stuff subsea. As the situation has stabilized somewhat, efforts are somewhat less frantic and more organized now and we’re back to a somewhat normal work schedule. My Facebook friends already know this. 😉 Don’t get me wrong: there’s still a LOT of work to be done. But on our end of it, it’s largely stabilized. Now watch as I think this and we go back to 24 hour, 7-day operations again immediately thereafter…

– So, did anything else happen in the world in May? I pretty much missed the whole month as my days went something like this: 11:30pm: shift change handoff meeting. Work through to noon. Go home. Eat something. Maybe do laundry, pay bills, skritch the bird. In bed about 4pm. Up at 10pm. Shower, get dressed, go to work.

– If you’re the CEO of a major multi-national corporation, you are not going to be intimately involved in the details of every single thing going on within the company, nor should you be. There are quite literally thousands of very competent people — specialists, even — who are handling the detailed operations. The CEO’s job is to tackle the big picture stuff.

– I sincerely doubt there is a single Representative or Senator in Congress who is intimately involved in what is going on in their district/state. Yet they expect the CEO of any company that is called before them to have total knowledge of every detailed aspect of their company’s operations down to the brand of toilet paper used in the company washrooms.

– While BP is streaming 12 live ROV feeds (not every ROV is in the water all the time), if you are watching a TV news outlet talking about the spill, they are virtually guaranteed to be showing one of the Skandi Neptune subs that’s applying dispersant to the plume. The other subs are typically doing far more interesting stuff, but that isn’t what the media wants to show you. They’ll gladly take BP’s ad money with one hand while slapping them around with the other.

– If you choose to go to a rally protesting oil companies, offshore drilling, land drilling, "wars for oil", or anything else even remotely related to the petroleum industry, may I suggest that it’s insincere to arrive or depart by airplane, helicopter, powerboat of any size, car, truck, bus, train, motorcycle, any other device with lubricated bearings, seals, elastomeric components (tires, tubes), or on foot while wearing shoes containing any rubber, plastic, nylon, polyester, etc., or over any asphalt or concrete roadway?

– It’s also a good idea, when picketing in front of an oil company headquarters building, to not scare a family of ducklings living in a wetlands habitat constructed by the oil company you’re picketing out in to street traffic where they will be run over. (This actually happened last month. It didn’t make the news.)

– I’m all for developing alternative energy sources. When I’m in a position to do so financially, it’s my intention to build a house with heavy solar input for electricity and hot water generation, and if I can get away with it (Home Owners’ Associations, the bane of many Texans’ existence), its own wind turbine. It will have a ground-looped (geothermal) HVAC system. It will be heavily insulated. It will use sustainable, durable, recyclable materials. It will recover rainwater for irrigation. It will be xeriscaped with native vegetation as much as the HOA lets me get away with. Why? Partly because I’m an engineer and the tech to make that work fascinates me. Partly because it’s the responsible thing to do. And partly because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay utility companies any more than absolutely necessary. And I’m willing to pay a bit more up front to have long-term savings.

– People who are calling for an immediate end to the oil industry (and they’re out there) should really put their money where their mouth is and swear off all petrochemical products entirely. Which means they’ll have to give up their computers, phones, hairdryers, anything with insulated electrical wiring (which is pretty much everything electrical), TVs, radios, cosmetic and toiletry items, rubber-tired bicycles, paints, wood protectants, shingles, roads, factory-made glass products (most glass furnaces are natural-gas-fired), any food or, indeed, any product whatsoever from beyond walking or ox-cart distance from home, the aforementioned footwear and transportation methods, air conditioning, most methods of heating (hand-cut wood still acceptable), home insulation, ceramics (natural-gas-fired kilns), most metal products (most foundries are either electric or natural-gas fired), most medications and medical equipment/procedures. If that sounds like a return to the heady days of the mid 1700s, well, you’re on the right track.

Look, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But be sincere about it. Posting your anti-fossil-fuel manifesto to the internet from a Chinese-made, plastic-cased netbook powered by batteries made in China from Bolivian lithium, shipped across the ocean in a vessel powered by heavy bunker oil, charged by electricity from a coal-fired plant, communicating over a wireless network at a coffee shop you drove (solo) to while sipping a mocha made from Indonesian coffee beans has a bit less impact, at least in my mind, due to the level of hypocricy involved.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about tonight.



  1. Good to read a different POV of this, although I knew a lot of it. Hope brilliant minds can come up with some solution. Wishing you all the best. Silly question: has anyone tried the sort of SF-writers think meet, to think of really weird but possible ways to stop the gushing? I know Washington did at least one that Pournelle was involved in at one point.


    1. The relief well(s) will take care of it. As far as throwing everything including some borderline nutso ideas at it, yeah, that’s been going on. I can’t really get into details at this time, but at a minimum, 30% of the stuff I personally worked on for this had never been attempted before. That said, some conventional ideas that would’ve done a very good job were prepared but not used for reasons that hopefully will become clear in the coming weeks. I’d really love for some of the inside story to get out. What a lot of folks, particularly on the coasts, don’t seem to grasp is the oil business is very much a product of the prairie states, and a lot of the tools and techniques have been given names not by some Madison Avenue marketing shop but by the roughnecks, roustabouts, drillers, and field engineers who came up with them. As an example, the “Top Kill” and particularly the “Junk Shot” were both openly derided outside of the business, but inside, well, that sort of thing has been in use for decades and more often than not, they work. Sure, it *sounds* ludicrous to shoot ground up tires and golf balls into a well to gum up the works, but most of the time, if there’s something for them to snag on, it works. That it didn’t in this case tells you there was a clear passage somewhere in that system with nothing to snag on, so you figure out a way to work within those constraints. All this in an environment that makes outer space look relatively easy to deal with. 5000 ft of sea water means ambient pressure is about 2600 psi. Or roughly one Honda Civic parked on every square inch of whatever is down there. And it’s dark. And about 40F. And corrosive to carbon steel so you have to use other metals or epoxy coat the steel. The folks doing the actual ops on this thing are keeping their heads down and grinding out potential solutions. You don’t hear about them, but there they are, taking ideas both simple and complex from just an idea to a finished, working piece in days, sometimes just hours. Every single person working on this wants it fixed and the mess cleaned up. Every single one. That’s why people have rearranged their lives around working to fix this and prevent a recurrence. And nobody is telling that story.


      1. Sometimes I think it’s because nuanced and balanced stories take too long to tell. Yes, the oil biz and Washington’s regulations were not carefully thought through — everyone seems to agree on that from what I’ve read, but demonizing is never useful. And harassing the folks trying to help annoys the hell out of me. At least the news did report that something like 70% of BP gas stations are privately owned/operated, so boycotting BP only hurts your neighbors, not the Corporation itself. That didn’t happen with the Valdez disaster, and was true then, too. (I worked for Esso/Exxon for a couple of months years back.) A relative worked on the Manhattan Project, and I work at a university and have a science background (physics), so I can roughly figure out what’s happening behind the news stories both emotionally and physically. Glad Scooter is still getting scritchies.

    1. Yep. Capped. They mudded it last week. Pumped cement in the top this week. Proceeding with the relief well to mud then cement at the bottom of the hole, too. Hasn’t been anything coming out of the well for several weeks now. And now we clear the backlog of projects that got pushed… plus make New Stuff for what’s to come.


    1. I don’t really know how exciting “I got up, I went to work, I came home, I went to bed.” would be to read, because that’s how I’ve spent most of the last several months. But I should have fresh material Real Soon Now. Meanwhile, I’m on Facebook ( and Twitter (@autojim), somewhat more regularly.


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