Did Haphazard Firefighting Sink Deepwater Horizon And Cause The Gulf Oil Spill?

A new report by the Center for Public Integrity, states that “[t]he Coast Guard has gathered evidence it failed to follow its own firefighting policy during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is investigating whether the chaotic spraying of tons of salt water by private boats contributed to sinking the ill-fated oil rig, according to interviews and documents.” 

A Coast Guard manual updated seven months before the accident provides that the Coast Guard should avoid being actively involved in fighting maritime fires.  Instead, it requires “Coast Guard responders to set up an ‘Incident Command System’ and assign an expert, such as a fire marshal, to lead the efforts to extinguish the blaze.”  However, the Coast Guard Command Center in New Orleans never attempted to designate a fire marshal to take charge of fighting the fire. 

Instead, after the blowout, several private vessels arrived on the scene and tried to suppress the fire by spraying thousands of gallons of saltwater on it in an uncoordinated manner.  Floating oil rigs use saltwater ballast to keep stable.  The concern is that this flood “overran the ballast system” and unbalanced the rig, ultimately causing it to sink.

Apparently, after the blowout the rig was on fire but the well’s riser pipe remained more or less intact.  When the platform turned turtle and sank, the riser pipe was damaged, which may have been what caused the majority of the leak.

I am fairly hesitant to assign blame for mistakes made by first-responders.  The Coast Guard, like the rest of the military, is called into action under difficult and dangerous situations.  The entire Deepwater Horizon event was chaotic, but not because of the response.  It was chaotic because there were multiple explosions and massive fires aboard a small floating platform 50 miles from shore.  I hope all concerned learn from the accident itself and the apparently flawed response that may or may not have exacerbated the situation, but it would take a bigger mistake than failing to sufficiently coordinate first-responders spraying water on a massive blaze for me to assign blame to anyone on the scene. 

But it is important to note, as the Washington Examiner’s Rob Bluey did this morning, that “President Obama’s carefully scripted scheme to deflect blame for the Gulf oil spill is starting to crumble.”  If the federal government contributed to — or even caused most of — the oil to leak, we have a right to know. 

I will also take some pleasure in seeing the Obama Administration squirm.  The Obama Administration has never hesitated to point the finger at anyone it thinks it can assign blame to for any problem it confronts, from former President GW Bush to BP.  Our ungracious and un-presidential President deserves to squirm

This also raises the question of whether budget cuts at the Coast Guard in any way contributed to its inability to take charge of the situation.  A memo by Coast Guard Adm. R. J. Papp (linked here)  last year noted that the Coast Guard was being “forced to make asset reduction decisions without full appreciation of the impact of those reductions to operational performance” due to President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request.  As to the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to maritime pollution incidents, Adm. Papp stated in part as follows:

The Coast Guard was once recognized as the sole expert for maritime hazardous materials and spill response; however, this is no longer the case. Today, that expertise (and the associated response equipment) resides in the commercial sector, throughout the maritime industry, and within the ranks of many of our state and local partners. . . . I believe it is time to re-evaluate the role of our Strike Teams and right-size them to function more as a Center of Excellence to augment Sector Commanders in response to major maritime pollution incidents.

Under the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, the Coast Guard is budgeted to lose nearly 1,000 sailors and five cutters, along with several helicopters and other aircraft.  The question presented is whether, and to what extent, those budgetary constraints may have contributed to the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to the Gulf Oil spill.

Via Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, and Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

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Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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