Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shadow and Flame

"Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear."
— Glóin from The Lord of the Rings 2 II The Council of Elrond

"The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum... shadow and flame."
— Saruman

Apologies to non-Tolkien fans, but this example of life imitating art/literature struck me when I first read about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Tolkien powerfully captures the clash of nature and industry as one of the recurring themes in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and tragically this disaster has some uncanny parallels. For those not familiar with the story of the Lord of the Rings, when the dwarves delve "too greedily and too deep" they awaken a Balrog, a demon of shadow and flame, and it proves too powerful to overcome. After much loss of life, the magnificent underground city and mining operation is abandoned.

Of course, the evidence is that this incident was avoidable, whether or not the driver was "greed" or a dysfunctional and reckless corporate culture (BP had an astonishing 760 egregious willful citations at refineries versus 1 for other companies in the same period!) . Yves Smith has provided solid coverage over recent weeks, and yesterday excerpted a letter sent from the government to BP: "In effect, it appears that BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time and made minimal efforts to contain the added risk." (much more via the link).

A guest post by George Washington and a link highlighted by Yves Smith both get into the possibility of undisclosed damage to the system and the threat of an accelerated flow of oil with no credible way to contain it at the well site. A knowledgeable commenter on Yves' site concludes "the relief well has to work. They will have to keep trying until they intersect the well."

If you need a less alarmist perspective, think of the oil spill relative to the Gulf of Mexico as "ONE raindrop in 10 olympic sized swimming pools" (and better mandate all wildlife to cease swimming or landing in the vicinity of said raindrop until further notice!) I suppose this is a bit sarcastic but I actually find it a worthwhile data point as food for thought, despite believing it to be rather misleading.

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