The Second Version

29/05/10

Truth and Handles

"You cannot handle the truth!" is the famous line uttered by Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in the movie A Few Good Men.

While in the movie that line of defence di dnot work, I think the statement is valid: there are some truths in this world that not everybody can handle. For many different reasons, but they still are hard to handle.

The specific case is the whole Deepwater Horizon / Macondo 252 disaster. There are a few ugly, hard truths there.

One is, the oil flow in the Gulf of Mexico is variable, cannot be measured exactly and any estimate is subject to severe uncertainty - more than mainstream media can handle(1), for sure.

Another - the main one - is that BP is proceeding by trial-and-error in its attempts to bring the gushing well back under control (before at least one relief well can be completed, but nobody seems to be inclined to accept that eventuality). And considering the difficult environemnt in which those attempts have to be carried out, I don not know if there is any other way.

Yes, it was easy to point out the clogging risk for the first dome, but much more difficult to come up with feasible solutions. The "top kill" operation has failed? Difficult to tell: apparently BP is trying the use of different shapes and sizes of "junk" in order to achieve enough restriction of upward flow, but all this takes time and indeed is trial-and-error.

Only those who have some knowledge of oilwell issues - or are willing to learn - can handle the ugly truths above. Most of the public cannot grasp the reality of the situation, and they only to want the oil leakage to be stopped, like... yesterday. Even the President of the USA seems to be in this party, or close to it.

There is another group of people who know how to handle the ugly truths, but for malignant use. It is the ones accusing BP of lying more or less since day one, the ones who would like to see the CEO of BP executed (for what crimes, it is not known). They are ready to use any admission of failure to accuse BP of incompetence or even of deliberately letting oil spill out. At the same time, any optimistic statement is seen as a proof of BP lying to the public.
Is there an obligation to be open and transparent towards your enemies?

Moreover, whenever there is an occasion there will be hosts of people offering a number of solutions to the problem that go from being in good faith but unworkable, to patently absurd - and those often come in a package with fantastic conspiracy theories as to why those solutions are not implemented.

Would I like BP to be more open and transparent? In an ideal world, yes. But I know that organizations of people, always, anywhere, try to spin news at their own advantage - honesty is appreciated because it's rare.

And in this real world, letting the public know everything would not help one bit with the well control efforts, neither the cleanup efforts. In fact it may even complicate things further by putting more pressure to perform rapidly on BP and the others involved - when the disaster occurred because BP wanted to complete the well in haste in the first place.

I have heard of talks of handling the well control operations to the US Navy: what experience does the Navy have with oil wells? They can destroy them if required, but control blowouts? Never heard of that.

(1) All journalista excluding a few scientific divulgators appear intellectually unable to understand what uncertainty is.

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