Friday, June 18, 2010

Who told Obama that drilling is 'absolutely safe'?
When discussing projects like offshore exploration, engineers often use the phrases "PF," which stands for probability of failure, and "CF," which stands for consequences of failure. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a classic low-probability, high-consequence event. Even with good safety procedures, strange combinations of human error, mechanical failure and sheer bad luck can combine to cause a devastating accident. "There has been a constant improvement in safety, but you can never say that a very low probability but very high consequence event is impossible," says Ken Arnold. "You can never say that."

That's the point that comes back over and over in discussing offshore oil drilling. Even though technology has gotten better and better over the years, you can't say it is absolutely safe.
I think this point may be the one that's been bothering me. Nothing done by mankind is absolutely safe. But life fools us. We go out on the highways despite the risk of accidents. We still ship oil in tankers. We fly in airplanes. We invest. We vote. In 2008, we elected a blowout.

From an oil company's point of view, there are a lot more risks that just the possibility of a blowout and environmental disaster. They could sink millions on a dry hole. This spill could destroy the company, leaving us with nobody to foot the bill, which is why scapegoating it is probably not a great idea. I still have the feeling that we really don't know the whole story and won't until they're able to bring up the well stack, which may never happen. I can't believe that any real expert in the oil industry would tell the President something like that, or that the President would be naive enough to believe it. Does he think the space program is absolutely safe, too?

UPDATE: Add to this Jonah Goldberg's assessment of how Obama uses science:
But it is bordering on the grotesque to handpick scientists to give you an opinion and then lie about what they actually said, and implement a policy they don't endorse. (According to the Journal, the Interior Department has apologized to the scientists. But the administration publicly refuses to acknowledge it did anything wrong).

The most important point isn't about cheap politics and hypocrisy. It's about the fundamental misunderstanding of the role of science in policymaking.


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