The Day Before

On April 19, 2010 – the day before the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Muir Russell panellist David Eyton, BP Group Vice President, Research & Technology (and formerly VP Gulf of Mexico Deepwater), gave a speech at Stanford on the problems and responsibilities of corporate governance – a speech that contains much sensible advice, not least of which is that “unless citizens feel some kind of ownership in the project, you are not going to be successful.” Unfortunately, Eyton did not practice what he preached in his capacity as a Muir Russell panelist.

It has obviously seemed a little odd all along that Eyton concerned himself with emails at the University of East Anglia. In his Stanford speech, Eyton said that his job was “to ensure that BP has the technology it needs to contribute to the world’s energy demands”, proceeding then to describe the “technical risk” “managed” by BP, describing the development of “a whole new generation of high pressure well equipment, subsea wellheads, flexible flowlines and equipment on the platform had to be researched, developed, tested and installed at a cost of many billions of dollars.”

It certainly wasn’t obvious that someone with these important responsibilities should be spending his time parsing CRU emails. Eyton began his Stanford speech (deliver in absentia due to the Iceland air flight interruption) as follows;

I apologize to those of you who expect oilmen to look like Daniel-Day Lewis. This is about as rough as I get.

Eyton’s patron, Tony Hayward, might well have delivered a similar apologia.

It seems even stranger that Eyton didn’t absent himself from the inquiry after the blowout. One would have thought that BP would want all hands on deck and that Eyton could have gracefully excused himself from the email inquiry. If he had nothing better to do, he could have washed pelicans. In any event, Eyton stuck with the Email Inquiry and it seems fair enough to measure the performance of the inquiry according to standards of governance espoused by Eyton himself.

Eyton observed that one of the lessons learned by BP in its many years of operating in foreign countries was that sometimes the challenges were so great that they formed “independent advisory committees, also known as ‘blue ribbon’ panels.”

the fourth lesson we’ve learned is that no matter how much you think you know, you never know everything: you have to have the humility to ask for help… In some instances, the challenges are so great that we form independent advisory committees, also known as ‘blue ribbon’ panels.

Eyton pointed to success of one such panel in West Papua (a country plagued by shall-we-say tribalism), where BP wanted to move a village in order to build a plant. They formed an independent panel chaired by a former US Senator, that included local community leaders.

The same thing happened in West Papua, where we had to move a village in order to be able to build the plant. That is an extremely difficult thing to do well. This time, the independent panel was chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell and included local community leaders.

Eyton reported that the inclusiveness of the panel resulted in a win-win situation, The moral that Eyton drew from the experience was that “unless citizens feel some kind of ownership in the project, you are not going to be successful.”

All parties worked together not just to move part of the village, but to rebuild it better. The project is operational today, and the local residents seem happy with the results. The lesson is: unless citizens feel some kind of ownership in the project, you are not going to be successful.

The Climategate controversies are also unfortunately marred by what Judy Curry calls “tribalism”. (I don’t entirely agree with Judy’s follow-on anthropological classifications; sometime I’ll try my own anthropology.)

If David Eyton applied his own standards of governance to the Climategate inquiry, he would have been obliged to ensure that the panel included representation from the relevant communities. Obviously Muir Russell , a Scottish “grandee” in Harrabin’s phrase, had entirely different views on inclusiveness.

At his press conference, Muir Russell was asked a few questions why his panel should be recognized as being anything other than a whitewash and answered:

We’re not going to get anywhere if this is just an ex cathedra proposition.

Saying and doing are different things. Hopefully, Muir Russell avoids the gross excesses of Lord Oxburgh, who gave nothing more than an ex cathedra proclamation, where documents and transcripts were regarded as needless “formality”. After all, the Oxburgh “inquiry” was being headed by a Lord. And not only a Lord, but a Lord of superior intellect. Questioning proclamations by a Lord of superior intellect is insolence. As were the calls for openness and transparency by the insufferable Commons Committee. Imagine the gall. Telling a Lord what to do.

But Roger Harrabin, for one, questions whether “Scottish grandee” Muir Russell doesn’t have similar attitidues. Harrabin:

The attitude of the establishment to the sceptics shines through the succession of inquiries into controversial science at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). When at the launch of the Sir Muir Russell inquiry I asked about the credibility of the review panel in the blogosphere, Sir Muir dismissed the enquiry with the flick of a wrist – he had been a senior civil servant and he had run a university, his bona fides were beyond question. …

I have been told by the review teams that they can read McIntyre’s blog if they want to learn about his views.

Muir Russell told the Commons Committee:

There will be points where we want to see people, I see that coming after we have the evidence.

If they did, they didn’t ask to see me or McKitrick or (to my knowledge) anyone critical of CRU.

In the press conference, at about minute 53, in response to an inaudible question, panelist Jim Norton said:

what we can do is be transparent about any questions that are specific about that . Either you or you accept that the process is as open and transparent and, as we discover things, they will put on the record as soon as it can be or you accuse us of covering up. So as far as I know that’s all I can say.

Muir Russell added:

I hope that the whole tenor of the process will leave everyone in the room with the impression – clear understanding – that what we are doing is designed us to be enable us to stand on ground to deal with your questions very directly because the evidence will be there. And we need to take time to make sure that we get it a level that we get it so we can probe, test and lay down as evidence … and not get glided past by general assertion or anything that just resembles a gloss.

It will be interesting to see.

Later in the day, I’ll put up a post on specific issues that I’ll be looking for in the report.

15 Comments

  1. David Watt
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:52 AM | Permalink

    Tony Hayward and to a lesser extent his hapless Chairman seem so far to be carrying the can for the Deepwater blowout.

    Speaking as a BP shareholder,It sounds as though David Eyton is also a good candidate for the order of the boot.

  2. David Watt
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 11:38 AM | Permalink

    During the first 36 hours after the Deepwater barge blew up, but before it sank, there was an urgent need for someone to realise that preserving the integrity of the riser pipe was an extremely important issue.

    What was needed was to attach a line and some subsea flotation pods to it before cutting it above these.

    With seniority and knowledge of the project David Eyton was a good candidate for appreciating this.

    Clearly he didn’t

  3. Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

    Muir Russell’s report has really no purpose now except to further convince people that something was rotten at the heart of British science. By now everyone knows exactly what he is going to say. Nothing fundamentally wrong, etc. etc.

    But fundamentally the public, the press the “lower” echelons of science have already made up their mind about climate “scientists”: they weren’t playing cricket. Which means in translation: they were not sticking to the standard of integrity that allowed the rest of us to assume what they were saying was right without asking for proof to back it up.

    Muir Russell will conclude there is no evidence that they told lies. What however the public want to know is: is there clear evidence they can be trusted to always tell the truth and to be honest the public, media and lower echelons of science have already decided on the second point.

  4. Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 3:39 PM | Permalink

    Prediction time:

    -This report will differ from the others in that they will have read at least some of the evidence and will actually ask some pertinent questions.

    -The major failing of the report, however, will be like the others: having asked some tough questions they will take the replies of Jones and Briffa at face value and will be too inclined to dismiss the major problems as mere disputation among academics.

    -They will criticize Jones and the CRU for not sharing their data. This one’s already in play and everyone gets to be on the side of the angels with the minimum of pain for the establishment.

    -Whenever they seem to be getting close to a real issue, they will discover that it pertains to the IPCC and they’ll punt it over to the IAC.

    -They will set the bar very high for proving fraud, then make prominent mention, in the summary, of the fact that they did not find evidence of fraud. Left unstated (or buried in the back pages) will be the issue of whether anything done by the CRU was misleading or biased, as opposed to fraudulent.

  5. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 4:19 PM | Permalink

    David Watt
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    During the first 36 hours after the Deepwater barge blew up, but before it sank, there was an urgent need for someone to realise that preserving the integrity of the riser pipe was an extremely important issue.

    What was needed was to attach a line and some subsea flotation pods to it before cutting it above these.

    Far easier to say than do. The largest commercial float bags lift on the order of 35 tonnes. The weight of the riser pipe in water is about 380 tonnes, so you’d need eleven bags.

    Now think about the logistical difficulties of attaching and then filling those eleven float bags underneath a burning oil platform that may collapse at any moment, and is difficult to approach because of the heat and flames.

    However, even supposing that you can attach the float bags, that doesn’t solve the problem. You still need to cut the pipe above the attachment level, without destroying your float bags.

    You’re still not out of trouble. Once the rig sinks, how will you prevent the rig from slamming into the riser pipe on its way down to the bottom?

    And even if you escape that fate, you end up with a mile of riser pipe firmly attached to the ocean bottom, with the top end floating free underwater, with 11 large (3x3x5 metres) bags tied to the top. Now consider the effect of even a small ocean current on a mile long pipe lever. Any horizontal force at the top is multiplied by a factor of 5,000 feet (pipe length) / 2 feet (pipe diameter), or about 2500:1. And forces from ocean currents on that setup will be huge.

    Short answer? Even if you could get it into place in time, it won’t work, the pipe will snap off anyway …

  6. Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

    Willis Eschenbach: “Short answer? Even if you could get it into place in time, it won’t work, the pipe will snap off anyway …”

    Have you tried viagra?

    According to the latest research, 99% of climate “scientists” need it to keep things hot!

  7. David Smith
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 5:31 PM | Permalink

    This is BP’s second industrial catastrophe in five years. The first was an explosion and fire in Texas City, TX which killed fifteen in 2005.

    The report on that event found poor management on a wide scale within that (refining) part of BP. This latest disaster leads me to assume, until proven otherwise, that BP’s problems originate at a higher level. BP will be a case study for bad management and missteps after a disaster for decades to come.

    I’m here in Pensacola, Florida, on the beach. Been here for four days. I’ve seen a few tar peas wash ashore and spotted some larger patties which washed ashore in a recent storm. Two days a go there was a darkish color at the tide line, since gone, which I conclude was made of very fine particles and was not a liquid. Unfortunate and highly undesirable, yes. Catastrophic for beachgoers – no. Catastrophic for the local community – yes. Frankly, jellyfish are a bigger concern.

  8. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 7:20 PM | Permalink

    ha ha, In years gone by I’ve managed at least one JV with BP minerals arm. We had some difficulty maintaining working money because of a tendency to spend on helicopter rides in remote places. Popping in on a remote settlement by chopper convoy is not the way to get on with the locals – especially if they, too, are busy washing pelicans.

    Steve, if you want DE or Pres Obama to wash pelicans, you are going to have to post the methodology on CA.

  9. Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:23 PM | Permalink

    before sleighting BP too much, they have spent $147 million on claims and a total of $3.12 billion.

    compare this to Bhopal and the US firm Union Carbide:
    “The company had paid nothing from its own earlier also. Of the $ 470 million compensation awarded in 1996, $370 million came from insurance companies and $70 million were paid by Union Carbide India Limited, while the American company has paid nothing so far,” Jabbar alleged.”
    “Altogether 5,295 people lost their lives immediately after the gas disaster while 10,047 others succumbed to various diseases in the following months.

    Out of the 5,60,000 affected people, nearly 37,000 were permanently disabled while the rest received minor injuries.”

    • Skip Smith
      Posted Jul 6, 2010 at 11:23 PM | Permalink

      LOL. You’re so desperate to disagree with McIntyre that you’re now defending BP as a good corporate citizen.

    • David S
      Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 5:43 AM | Permalink

      An interesting comparison, tfp. I tend to think that, so far as an organisation can be evil, UC was, while on the other hand BP just seems to be inept. I have a theory that there are two parallel universes, Universe A in which people do stuff like drilling for oil or driving trucks or whatever, and Universe B in which they create documentation that gives the appearance of activity, and having met a number of former senior executives from BP I feel they have got themselves confused between the two universes. They honestly thought that having lots of compliance committees, meetings with immaculate minutes, and copiously documented corporate governance structures would guarantee them good outcomes.

  10. geronimo
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 2:18 AM | Permalink

    We’ll know soon, but I think Ross has it right, the only nagging doubt that it may indeed be more critical of the scientists than we are assuming comes from the letter Mann and his acolytes sent to the Inquiry and the fact that Leo Hickman, bag carrier to the alarmists, regugitated a weeks old story about climate scientists receiving death threats in the Guardian. No comments were allowed on the article, which was probably put there to influence Sir Muir into making changes favourable to Jones et al at the last minute, and heaven forbid anyone asking why the FBI were unable to find the source of these emails when the have a panolpy of methods available to them to read and source private data records in the US.

  11. David Watt
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 3:01 AM | Permalink

    Willis Eschenbach

    I don’t think the problems of preserving the integrity of the riser pipe were as great as you say.

    Even at the height of the fire it woulld still be cool 50 metres below surface.

    There were I am sure divers about who could have attached lines and could have operated cutting gear. There were in any event ROV’s around which could have done it.

    It would have been fairly easy with lines to support vessels to hold the riser pipe on station after it was cut

    The barge could have been allowed to drift off station so it wouldn’t snag the riser pipe when it sank.

    The buoyancy tanks do not need to support the entire 380 ton weight. They only need to exert enough upward tension to prevent the pipe from collapsing to the bottom.

    The question really is did any one think about it and if so why was the idea rejected?

    Is the riser pipe really 2 feet diameter?
    I would have thought it would only be about 9 inches across.

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