Forget James Cameron -- Obama and BP Should Call on The Three Stooges for Oily Success

Last Updated Jun 3, 2010 11:32 AM EDT

Daily press releases from BP and the Barack Obama White House serve to underscore respective incompetence on the handling of the Deepwater Horizon disaster spewing out of control off the coast of Louisiana. If Obama and BP want to get serious about sealing the oily leak, they should consider calling in the Three Stooges -- yes, Larry, Moe and Curly!

The BP-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. The Macondo drilling prospect was located about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, beneath 5,000 feet of water plus an additional 13,000 feet under the seabed. Irony of ironies, as the crippled Transocean-owned rig burned in the Gulf, President Obama hosted a White House reception in the Rose Garden to honor Earth Day. The President took the occasion to advocate for a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that would "safeguard our planet, and spur innovation and help us to compete in the 21st Century."

Three days after the rig sank, and a five-mile long oil slick could be seen from passing aircraft, BP chief executive Tony Hayward told reporters, "Given the current conditions and the massive size of our response, we are confident in our ability to tackle this spill offshore."

Irrespective of the mounds of damning evidence dumped on his feet -- and PR coaching -- Hayward still manages to stumble during "meet the press moments," landing nimbly back on his feet, or foot (with the other one usually planted squarely in his mouth -- will all 14 phalanges present and counted for stuck between his teeth).

During a May 30 tour of a BP staging area for cleanup workers, Hayward reportedly said the company's sampling showed "no evidence" that oil was suspended in large masses beneath the surface -- in direct contradiction to images being fed to the surface from remote operated vehicles (ROVs), and being watched by millions on the Internet or on TV, day-in and day-out. As early as May 6, the Coast Guard began reporting eight to 12-inch tar balls washing up on Alabama's Dauphin Island and the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast, uninhabited barrier islands that are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.

In subsequent weeks, Hayward misspoke on the British oil and gas giant's efforts -- to cap and contain the spill -- times too numerous to mention in this article. But, here are a few of his quoted gems:

We expect the environmental impact to be very, very modest ...Cooperation will be looked at in the future as textbook example ....Volume of oil being spilled is tiny...compared to size of ocean.
Addressing reporters at a press conference on May 27, Obama took some personal responsibility for not moving quickly enough to change a culture at the Minerals Management Service in which "oil companies were able to get what they wanted." However, he also quickly dismissed criticism that his administration was too slow in its responses to the spill itself, countering the federal government had been involved in decision-making since Day One of the crisis:
This notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sideline for the last three or four or five weeks, we've just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions, is simply not true.
Back on April 29, the President pledged "every single available resource," including the U.S. military, to contain the spreading spill. Obama admitted publicly last week that neither the U.S. government nor the military have the technology to plug the leaking well and are leaving it in the hands of BP.

For weeks BP and the White House had confidently told the American public that the oil spewing from the well was 5,000 barrels per day (210,000 gallons). An internal BP document, dated April 27, showed that number was misleading. Rep. Ed Markey said at a House Natural Resources Committee meeting on May 26 that BP scientists actually thought the leak to be upwards of 14,000 bpd. Outside analysts estimate the daily spill rate could be much higher -- up to 95,000 barrels, or nearly 4 million gallons!

"This is obviously a difficult situation," Carol Browner, President Obama's climate change and energy policy adviser, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

It's important for people to understand that from the beginning, the government has been in charge.... We have been directing BP to take important steps...including the drilling of a second relief well.
This feigned attempt at leadership failed to note that BP had begun planning weeks ago for the drilling of a second relief well.

With a 100-ton "containment (dome) box" rusting on the the ocean floor, junked by BP after ice-like methane crystals clogged it, BP focused its plug efforts last week on a "top kill" maneuver, where heavyweight mud was forcibly injected atop the blown-out well, with the objective of pushing back down the oil and gas -- either to slow the leaks from the broken pipe or ideally, plug it. CEO Hayward gave the "top kill" procedure a 60 to 70 percent chance of success -- even though the method had never been tested at such levels. BP conceded last Saturday that "top kill" efforts failed.

With his poll numbers sinking -- and no tangible evidence that BP is even close to slowing the spill -- President Obama has turning to friends in Hollywood for help. Word has leaked that Avatar director James Cameron is now consulting with U.S. officials on possible solutions to the spill.

Obama and his aides might have experience in plugging leaks from the White House, but with deference to all those affected by the spill, forget about Cameron -- it's time for the crews in Washington DC and down in the Gulf to study how Larry, Moe and Curly would've plugged the spill:

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  • David Phillips

    David Phillips has more than 25 years' experience on Wall Street, first as a financial consultant and then as an equity analyst for several investment banking firms. He sifts through SEC filings for his blog The 10Q Detective, looking for financial statement soft spots, such as depreciation policies, warranty reserves and restructuring charges. He has been widely quoted in outlets such as BusinessWeek, The International Herald Tribune, Investor's Business Daily, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, and The Wall Street Journal.