Thinking Tech

Why BP is fighting the blowout alone

Posting in Government

With BP's latest bright idea to stop its Gulf of Mexico oil gusher now seen as a failure, smart people are beginning to ask: where are the experts?

With BP's latest bright idea to stop its gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico now shown to be yet another cunning plan, and the company starting to throw golf balls and old tires at the problem, some smart people are beginning to ask where the experts are? (Picture from Wikipedia.)

Who ya' gonna call, BP?

Due to a series of unfortunate events, the experts no longer exist. Not in a form where either BP, or the Obama Administration, could call on them.

Back when I covered the oil industry, in Houston, in the 1970s, this would look like a job for Red Adair. He was at the height of his fame when I joined the Houston Business Chronicle in 1978.

Over the years Adair and his crew put out over 2,000 fires, including the Sahara's infamous "Devil's Cigarette Lighter,"  the second-worst blow-out in the North Sea's history, and the fires that hit Kuwait in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.

But Red Adair only seemed immortal. He retired in 1993 and died in 2004.

Even before he quit his top men, Asger "Boots" Hansen and Ed "Coots" Matthews, left to form their own firefighting company, Boots & Coots International. After he left his remaining lieutenants formed International Well Control (IWC). The main company is now owned by Global Industries.

Yeah, well what about them, then?

Global no longer emphasizes its firefighting expertise. It's a major oil field services firm. IWC bought out Boots & Coots in 1997. By 2007 most of their money was coming from "well intervention" services, not firefighting.

The company seemed to be getting back on its feet earlier this year when it was bought by a firm that had brought it into fighting fires during the Iraq War.

That would be Halliburton.  You may know Halliburton from its former CEO, who left to go into politics a decade ago. Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney.

Fact is accidents like this are rare. Expertise to effectively fight them is rarer. The leading expert is fighting fires in heaven, and his legacy belongs to a company formerly run by the man who still considers President Obama his sworn political enemy.

The simple answer to the question is, Red's dead and there's no one like him around any more.

BP has created a problem no one really knows how to solve, not the government and not private industry. When all this is over, creating that kind of infrastructure again, whether in public or private hands, should be the oil industry's job one.

(Picture from Agora Net.)

But if I were President Obama, I might drag Dick Cheney's angry caboose back to the White House today, discuss the question with him directly, and let him handle the news pack outside the gates.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure