BP has moved from villain to comedian.
This week, the Associated Press released a study of BP’s 52-page plan (written in TK) for a possible disaster at the Deepwater Horizon drilling site. “BP Exploration and Production Inc. has the capability to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst case discharge, or a substantial threat of such a discharge, resulting from the activities proposed in our Exploration Plan,” the company’s report said.
As a Nixon apparatchik might put it, that statement is no longer operative.
Yes, BP’s “plan” was a joke, as it quoted a deceased expert and promised to protect “walruses, sea otters, sea lions and seals,” animals that don’t live in the Gulf of Mexico.
But it brings up a larger question: Is it really possible to plan for, and protect against, every possible disaster? Of course not. Even attempting to do so would exhaust people and resources that need to be invested elsewhere.
“It would be nice to be able to draw up a complete list of disaster possibilities, rank them by their expected cost, decide how much we want to spend on preventing each one and proceed down the list until the total cost of prevention equals the total expected cost averted,” notes Judge Richard Posner in The Washington Post’s June 2 Outlook section. “But that isn’t feasible. Many of the probabilities are unknown. The consequences are unknown. The costs of prevention and remediation are unknown.”
Posner literally wrote the book on disaster response. His 2004 tome “Catastrophe: Risk and Response,” mentioned several possible catastrophes. “Yet I did not consider volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or financial bubbles,” Posner explained in the Post, “simply because none of those seemed likely to precipitate catastrophes.” Yet those are the messes we’ve faced in the last two years. There will be other messes, many unanticipated, in the months and years ahead.
Furthermore, even our apparent successes in dealing with disasters aren’t necessarily successes. Posner points to the Y2K threat of 1999. “The risk of disaster probably was quite small, but the fact that it had a specific and known date made it irrational to postpone any remedies -- it was act now or not at all,” he writes.
And act Americans did, spending billions to rewrite code and head off any potential mishaps. And indeed, disaster didn’t strike at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.