Report Shows Anatomy of a Political Crisis

Boats hose down a massive fire on the oil rig
Deepwater Horizon, April 21, 2010.
Photo Credit: ZUMApress.com

By James Herron
The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2010

The latest unflattering revelations about the U.S. authorities’ handling of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should hardly come as a surprise. A report from investigators lays out in glorious detail the classic structure for any political crisis:

  • Step one. Hope the problem just goes away.

One of the reports compiled by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling said:

“For the first ten days of the spill, it appears that a sense of over optimism affected responders.”

BP, the Coast Guard and the White House clung, for far too long, to the not-so-scary-sounding estimate that 1,000 barrels a day was leaking from the well, despite video images of a powerful subsea gusher that were running almost 24 hours a day on TV news.

This obvious denial of reality allowed ever more alarming theories about the true extent of the spill to flourish–that the well was leaking in excess of 100,000 barrels a day, that ocean currents would spread the spill up the entire eastern seaboard, that the whole surface of the Gulf of Mexico was about to rupture like an over ripe fruit.

Suddenly, the world was ending and step two was required.

  • Step two. Overreact.

At this point commission staff wrote:

“The arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general, rather than being targeted in an efficient way.”

As media criticism rose to an intolerable pitch, all sense of proportion was cast aside in the rush to make amends. By the time the spill response had actually built up to a sufficient scale in May, President Barack Obama was ordering a tripling of federal manpower devoted to the effort. The result was personnel being sent where they weren’t needed.

As media criticism rose to an intolerable pitch, all sense of proportion was cast aside in the rush to make amends. By the time the spill response had actually built up to a sufficient scale in May, President Barack Obama was ordering a tripling of federal manpower devoted to the effort. The result was personnel being sent where they weren’t needed.

State governments competed to buy the most floating boom to protect shorelines and distributed it according to political imperatives. This meant time was wasted placing boom, “everywhere, including in passes where swift tidal currents rendered it ineffective, and in places where it was unlikely to encounter oil.”

The competition to mount the most impressive response inevitably led to the next step.

Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>