Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Letter To Congress: Stop The Off-Shore Drilling Moratorium

There is something noble about dedicating one's life to building a family-owned business. It is a huge investment of time, money, energy, and human emotion. However, one family's dream of helping power America has been shattered by President Obama's six-month moratorium on off-shore drilling. In the letter below, citizens Cliffe Laborde and Peter Laborde ask Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to intervene on behalf of their state and their country. They ask that their Senators do whatever it takes to lift the moratorium for the sake of protecting the livelihoods of thousands of American citizens.

The simple fact is that an overwhelming majority of the people working in America's oil and gas industry are honest, hard working Americans that love their country. They're sick and tired of being demonized by this Administration because one company, British Petroleum, made irresponsible decisions that led to a massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast. This letter captures the zeitgeist of how oil and gas workers feel about what's going on in America. It's a compelling story and we invite you to read on.

Letter From Laborde Marine To Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) And Senator David Vitter (R-LA)
June 4, 2010

The Honorable Mary Landrieu
United States Senator
724 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable David Vitter
United States Senator
516 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

RE: Moratorium on Deep Water Drilling

Dear Senators Landrieu and Vitter,

The B.P. blowout and its aftermath constitute a continuing tragedy of gigantic proportions, both for the nation as a whole, and for Louisiana in particular. However, the Administration’s moratorium on deep water drilling is ill-advised and compounding the tragedy.

Over 50,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico with no environmental incidents of any consequence. Of that number, 4,000 were deepwater wells (drilled at a depth greater than 1,000 feet), and over 700 were ultra-deepwater wells (over 5,000 feet in depth); none of these had any problems. These impressive statistics establish that the offshore drilling industry has an excellent safety record. This record was achieved by advances in drilling technology, coupled with an industry culture of exceptional and safe performance. No one in the industry wants to see our water polluted with oil, and no one wants anyone injured or killed in the production of energy for our nation. The fact that the MMS conducted a safety assessment of each of the deepwater rigs in the days following the blowout and found no significant problems is testament to the industry’s commitment to safe operations.

While the investigation into the BP blowout is still underway, it is apparent that the cause of this tragedy was a series of human errors in judgment, with catastrophic results. The technology and processes were in place to prevent this accident, but they were circumvented to expedite completion of the project. To shut down the entire industry is overkill and analogous to shutting down all commercial air traffic after one plane crash due to pilot error. It is a decision that makes no sense and should be reversed.

Laborde Marine is a family-owned business headquartered in New Orleans which employs over 200 people. Over the last three years, we have built in US shipyards or acquired new US built and flagged vessels primarily designed to service the deepwater drilling market. We own and/or operate 21 vessels, all built in US shipyards. We have invested over $150 million to build or acquire our fleet of vessels. Our annual payroll is over $14 million. Now the US government is telling us to simply “park” our vessels for at least six months. Never in the history of the United States has the government decided to shut down an entire industry for six months. That decision seems to be a knee-jerk reaction based on an emotional response to the spill, and made without a full appreciation of the consequences which will adversely impact tens of thousands of hard working people who are engaged in the industry. It is a decision that advances the Administration’s agenda for transferring to a clean/alternative energy- economy, but at an enormous cost to the thousands of us engaged in offshore exploration and development.

If the moratorium on deep water drilling is not lifted, the 33 semi-submersible rigs and/or drillships affected will simply go to other countries where they will be well received, such as Brazil, the countries off West Africa, and Southeast Asia. They will not return to the US Gulf of Mexico for years, if ever. The damage to our industry will be irreversible. And the companies most adversely affected by this plan are the US based service companies — particularly the marine/boat companies which built their vessels in US shipyards, as required by US law to work in US waters. For us to move internationally, we will have to compete with vessels built in foreign yards at a much lower cost and often subsidized by foreign governments. It will not be a level playing field. The moratorium may well be the death-knell for US businesses engaged in the energy service sector. The major and independent operators — the “oil companies” — are not nearly as adversely affected by the moratorium as service firms, inasmuch as the operators will still own the oil in the ground, and can come back later, after the moratorium is lifted and oil prices have increased, and then produce the oil. The local service companies may not be around to come back.

We are proud to be a part of the offshore industry, doing our small part to assist in the production of energy for our nation. We believe that we are enhancing the national security of the United States by lessening its reliance and dependency on foreign sources of oil. While alternative energy is a laudable goal, it will be decades before alternative fuels make a dent in our country’s needs. The transition to alternative fuels must be done over time — not by a six month moratorium that may well put us out of business. This is the United States of America, where reason and sound judgment have always been the foundation of our system of government — not poorly thought out and capricious reactions that destroy the livelihoods of thousands of its citizens in order to promote a partisan political agenda. Please do whatever it takes to lift the moratorium on deep water drilling immediately, before irreparable harm to our nation’s and state’s economy occurs.


Cliffe F. Laborde
J. Peter Laborde, Jr.

Cc: Governor Bobby Jindal
Louisiana Congressional Delegation

Friday, June 18, 2010

Senate Climate Vote Usurps Authority, Endangers Democracy

We as Americans has an intrinsic love for freedom in many forms. The freedom to drive the car we want, the freedom to own a piece of the American dream, and the freedom to elect and ultimately hold accountable members of Congress. Unfortunately however, our freedoms are under attack by radical environmentalists and their supporters in the United States Senate. How? In a push to secure more power and control over the American people, Washington bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency have recently declared that "greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health and welfare, and thus subject to regulation by the EPA under the Clean Air Act." In an effort to stop this Washington power grab, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski recently offered a resolution of disapproval that made it clear that members of Congress were to set climate change policy; not "politically unaccountable bureaucrats, trial lawyers, and activist judges."

However, "In a 53-47 vote, senators struck down Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's resolution of disapproval to overturn the EPA's power grab to set climate policy." By blocking this resolution, the U.S. Senate voted to sever the link of accountability between the American people and members of Congress. If you are unhappy with the direction of the country is heading in then please read on, become a more educated voter, and take action accordingly.

Senate Climate Vote Usurps Authority, Endangers Democracy
Last week, the senate refused to take true responsibility for climate change legislation by letting the Environmental Protection Agency essentially usurp that authority. In a 53-47 vote, senators struck down Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's resolution of disapproval to overturn the EPA's power grab to set climate policy.

In a controversial move known as the endangerment finding, the EPA declared that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health and welfare, and thus subject to regulation by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. Because greenhouse gas emissions come from a huge variety of sources and sectors, this represents an enormous shift of regulatory power to the EPA on the climate issue. In an open letter to senators last month, a coalition of policy think tanks and energy interests noted that "at a minimum, the endangerment finding will allow EPA to deal itself into a position to determine fuel economy standards for the auto industry, control CO2 emissions from stationary sources, and, more broadly, set climate policy for the nation - powers never delegated to the agency by Congress."

The EPA itself recognizes that the wide reach of the endangerment finding, and the enormous administrative overhead required, leads to "absurd results." To avoid some of the problems their endangerment finding would cause, the EPA proposes to "tailor" the Clean Air Act so that firms emitting relatively low amounts of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions (less than 50,000 tons per year) would be exempt from the permitting programs for six years. Clearly, the EPA is planning to amend the Clean Air Act to lessen the burden of the endangerment finding. This may seem practical at first glance, but the EPA is not a legislative body and has no authority to amend legislation. That they in fact seek to do so would seem to be a case for limiting their regulatory scope, not making it larger.

In their letter to senators, the coalition members note that the Murkowski resolution was "a referendum not on climate science but on who should make the big decisions affecting America's economic future. Is climate policy to be made by the people's representatives or by politically unaccountable bureaucrats, trial lawyers, and activist judges? Only one answer to that question passes constitutional muster. EPA has no authority to do an end-run around the democratic process. Climate policy is too important to be made by an administrative agency without new and specific statutory guidance from Congress."

Key senators themselves, despite their nay vote on the resolution last week, seem to recognize this reality. Unfortunately, they just don't want it to be so because it's easier to have somebody else do it. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, has said that if the public has to wait for Congress to pass legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions, "that might not happen, in a year or two, or five or six or eight or 10." Perhaps that is the case, but that is how legislation works in a representative democracy.

Indeed, the closeness of the vote on the Murkowski resolution suggests that passing (with 60 votes) any comprehensive climate legislation will be no easy task. But that is the job of legislators, elected by the people. When those legislators cede that task to powerful but unelected regulators, they abdicate their leadership responsibilities and cheat the democratic process.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Gulf Disaster: Is Failure an Option?

Have you ever heard the phrase “rocket scientist” in reference to someone really smart, someone who can solve problems? Well, we are pleased to have a “rocket scientist”—or at least an astronaut and a scientist—on board to help shed light on some of the current issues facing America—especially energy. We welcome Harrison Schmitt, former New Mexico State Senator and Apollo Astronaut.

As is pointed out here, no matter how many rocket scientists one has working on a project, accidents can still happen. Here, Harrison Schmitt draws comparisons between how NASA handled a crisis and how the federal government is handling the BP/Gulf disaster. He offers and interesting perspective and shows that it is possible to do it right—even for government agencies.

No Analogy Between The Gulf Oil Spill Crisis And Apollo 13
President Obama’s Administration and its supportive media repeatedly use our 1970 Apollo 13 experience as analogous to the effort to contain and cap the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Not hardly! The rescue of Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert after an oxygen tank explosion on their spacecraft illustrates how complex technical accidents should be handled in contrast to the Gulf fiasco. Nothing in the government’s response to the blowout explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and its aftermath bears any resemblance to the response to the Apollo 13 situation by the NASA of Apollo and its Mission Control team at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

“Failure was not an option” for Gene Kranz and his Apollo 13 flight controllers and engineers. In contrast, failure clearly has been an option for President Obama and those claiming to have been on top of this situation "from day one" in his White House and in the Departments of Interior, Homeland Security, and Energy. With no single, competent, courageous, and knowledgeable leader in charge of a comparably competent, courageous, and knowledgeable team as we had with Apollo 13, the Administration has been doomed to failure from the start. The President, without any experience in real-world management of anything, much less a crisis, has no idea how to deal with a situation as technically complex as the Gulf oil spill.

Whatever may be the culpability of British Petroleum and its federal regulators in the accident, it has been left to BP engineers and managers and to Gulf State officials to respond as best they can in a regulatory environment that is politically charged, incompetent, fearful, and hesitant.

Absolutely no reason exists to assume that any part of the Federal Government has engineering expertise comparable to the petroleum industry that can be applied to this or any future energy-related crisis. Certainly, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have no more experience in these matters than does the President.

Salazar’s empty threat to “push BP out of the way” has no basis as a realistic option and best illustrates the floundering of the Obama Administration. Indeed, from "day one," the expertise of the entire U.S. and British drilling and production industry, with a single experienced engineering manager in charge, should have been mobilized to combat this spill. It still is not too late to start doing it right.

A more appropriate analogy from the Apollo era would be the recovery from the tragic fire during a pre-launch test on January 27, 1967, that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The Apollo 204 fire occurred in the clearly recognized crisis atmosphere of the Cold War in which America raced to demonstrate to the world the superiority of freedom over the communist oppression of the Soviet Union. The Deepwater Horizon explosion took place in the equally apparent crisis of America’s dependence on sources of oil from foreign nations governed or intimidated by our enemies or economic competitors. There, however, the validity of the 204 fire analogy ceases.

The NASA's response to the 204 fire was to rapidly implement its previously well-formulated, objective investigation of its causes, both technical and managerial. Managerial responsibilities were identified and George Low and his engineering team made appropriate changes without a prolong exercise in finger pointing or the delays of another Presidential, buck-passing "commission." NASA of that day moved forward and even accelerated the Apollo effort to its successful conclusion. Apollo 8’s Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the Moon less than two years after the 204 fire. Seven months after that, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, with Mike Collins in orbit overhead, landed on the Moon.

The lessons from the 204 fire were applied and we moved on. In contrast, President Obama’s and his Administration’s otherwise rambling response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion has been to stop off shore oil exploration by the United States. How misguided and, indeed, how either ignorant or devious can our President be!

President Obama has shown repeatedly that the best interests of the American people are a lower priority than his ideological goals to change America from what it has been, to some mystical, socialist utopia with an energy-based standard of living equivalent to that of the late 1800s. As if the Administration could not make its ineffective, disjointed response to the Deepwater Horizon accident any worse, it did not even use preciously established sea surface burn-off and dispersant procedures to minimize the effects of the spill. Then, it has inexcusably delayed approving and assisting in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s request to protect the State’s shores and wildlife habitats with offshore sand barriers, as unnecessary as having to make that request should have been. And this is the government that Congress and the President want to run healthcare, immigration, banking, carbon emissions, auto manufacturing, and everything else in American life?

The geologists, engineers, and on-site managers responsible for the Deepwater Horizon drilling effort understood that drilling to an oil reservoir through 13,000 of rock in 5000 feet of seawater would be very difficult. They knew that their geophysically defined target, typical of Gulf petroleum reservoirs, would be a complex mix of crude oil, natural gas, and brine contained in porous and permeable rock. Because of the rock and water depth, the reservoir also would be under very high pressure. In this situation, a reliable blowout preventer, a crimping device installed on the pipe near the floor of the sea, would be essential to reduce the risk of both a spill and potential explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

Current information indicates that BP installed a defective blowout preventer and does not have a deep water, robotically emplaced, crimping technique as a backup to the blowout preventer. Essential to the prevention of future accidents will be an objective, complete technical and managerial investigation of why a geological and engineering situation of known risks spun out of control. The primary question is, will such an investigation be possible in the politically charged, adversarial “boot on the neck” atmosphere created by President Obama and his team? Imagine if such an atmosphere had surrounded the 204 fire investigation and recovery.

Responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon accident ultimately lies with the chaotic regulatory environment for petroleum exploration created over recent decades by Congress and the Department of Interior. Will we learn anything about regulatory overkill from this tragic loss of eleven lives and disruption of business and employment in the Gulf? Elimination of access to most on-shore and near-shore oil production has driven American exploration away from more easily discoverable and produced resources and into the much more dangerous and technically challenging deep waters of the seas and oceans. Even then, drilling and production accidents are exceedingly rare in spite of the geological, engineering, and weather-related difficulties explorers and producers face as a consequence of misguided restrictions.

Long-term, history reminds us that naturally and accidentally released oil in the oceans disappears due to bacterial action. Remember that the fuel oil blackening of beaches of the world from World War II ship destruction disappeared after only a few years and ocean life survived. The Gulf oil spill will not be this Nation's most serious environmental crisis: World War II tops it by orders of magnitude in more than just this respect.

If America and freedom are to survive indefinitely, the next Congress must begin to restore sanity and intelligence to national energy policy. Until economically competitive alternatives become fully feasible, fossil fuels will remain the mainstay of our economy. Our dependence on unstable foreign sources of oil has become one of our greatest national security vulnerabilities that only domestic production can solve in the next 50 years. The 2010 elections become a critical starting point to bring rational, constitutional, America-first thinking back into the Federal Government.

Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and former Apollo Astronaut. He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.