Greetings from Louisiana, where we’re having a fire sale on fresh oysters and shellfish. Two for the price of one! Come and get it! And here’s a free cooking tip as well: These will be best prepared either pan fried or saut?ed – hold the EVOO – they won’t need it.
Seriously, at this point, I think it might behoove BP to make a phone call and get some hints from Heloise, because if anyone can get an oil spot out or have a nifty way for cleaning up a messy spill, it’s her.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, because we’ve all read the articles, seen the news, listened to the radio, read the breaking news web alerts scrolling across our favorite news-related sites. This is devastation on an entirely new level. Is it Katrina? No – not exactly - but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Or, to put this in a way BP can understand – it’s like comparing heavy drilling fluid to seawater. They are completely different. The devastation from this will be felt for years to come, just like Katrina, and it's likely that the recovery from this BP train wreck will take even longer to bounce back from, environmentally speaking. At least this time around, it seems as though BP will foot most of the bill for this recovery, at least initially, instead of the federal government. However, only time, commitment and sincerity will tell.
When I first started as Director of Apprenticeship with the (then) Louisiana Department of Labor, I remember having discussions with a few folks about developing registered apprenticeship within the oil industry. There are no such programs in Louisiana, and I’m not aware of any that may have existed in the past, either. For the life of me, I can’t remember who my discussions were with – but it was with an oil industry association. I was told by more than one person that the oil rigs pay big bucks, so it would be next to impossible to get anyone to participate starting at 50% of the normal pay that everyone else is getting. It's tough, dangerous work that involves long leaves of absence from their families, so the money is the major incentive to get people to sign on. In addition, it would be difficult to arrange the deliverance of related instruction, because of the fact that these workers often will come from a great distance to work their 14 on/14 off schedule, not only from within Louisiana, but other states as well. Therefore, trying to coordinate the related instruction would take a herculean effort.
At the time, being the newbie that I was, I didn’t push back on that argument, because it really seemed valid. I was still learning the ropes of registered apprenticeship, so I let it drop. Fast forward two plus years, and I feel a certain amount of good old fashion Catholic guilt because I can’t help but think that if I’d been more experienced, knowledgeable, or just downright pushy, I might have gotten that association to buy into it. If BP had a registered apprenticeship program for oil rig workers, would it have made a difference? Maybe not, but the rigorous level of safety training alone would probably have, at the very least, saved eleven lives.
Then again, those employers that sponsor a registered apprenticeship program (generally) hold the training and safety of their workforce in high regard. What does that say about BP not having one?
“In a handwritten statement to the Coast Guard obtained by the AP, Transocean rig worker Truitt Crawford said: ‘I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out.’" Any apprenticeship program worth its salt, no matter what the industry, will tell you that shortcuts can quickly cause huge safety problems. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and while the right way may be more expensive, or more time consuming, doing it the wrong way is not worth risking lives.
The previous quote and following is an excerpt from an Associated Press article that was released last Wednesday, May 26, 2010. It is entitled AP Exclusive: Workers Describe Failures on Oil Rig. This is a lengthy excerpt, but it is invaluable insight into the conditions on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig shortly before it went down in flames.
“Investigators for BP told reporters at a briefing in Washington that rig workers misconstrued the test they had thought was successful. Investigators said they don't understand why the mistake was made and added that there had been debate among the workers on the rig about how to proceed .(. . .) The witness statements show that rig workers talked just minutes before the blowout about pressure problems in the well. At first, nobody seemed too worried, with Transocean chief mate David Young leaving two workers to handle the difficulty on their own and telling them to call when he was needed. The well site leader worked in his office. Then panic set in.
Workers called their bosses to report that the well was ‘coming in’ and that they were ‘getting mud back.’ The drilling supervisor, Jason Anderson, tried to shut down the well. It didn't work. At least two explosions turned the rig into an inferno. Crew members were hurled through walls, doors flew through the air and the living quarters blew apart. Workers stumbled across a bloody, dark deck, trying to pull debris off the injured. Brown said that as he waited beside a lifeboat for the order to abandon ship, he witnessed ‘complete chaos, mayhem. People were screaming, people were crying.’ Rig leaders struggled to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. An emergency generator wouldn't start.
Steve Bertone, the chief engineer for Transocean, wrote in his witness statement that he ran up the bridge and heard the captain screaming at a worker for pressing the distress button. Bertone turned to Pleasant, who was manning the emergency disconnect system, and asked whether it had been engaged. Pleasant told Bertone that he needed approval first, according to Bertone's sworn statement. Another manager tried to give the go-ahead, but someone else said the order needed to come from the rig's offshore installation manager. Ultimately who gave the order is a matter of dispute. Donald Vidrine, well site leader for BP, said he did it. But Bertone said it was Jimmy Harrell of Transocean.
By the time the workers obtained the approval and got started, Pleasant said he ‘got all the electronic signals but no flow on meters,’ meaning hydraulic fluid wasn't flowing to close the valves on the blowout preventer. Darryl Bourgoyne, a petroleum engineer at Louisiana State University, said a valve could have been broken or hydraulic fluid could have leaked earlier. It is not clear whether the delay could have contributed to the system's failure to close off the well and snuff out the fire. The rig burned for two days before finally collapsing in the Gulf.
Gene Beck, a petroleum engineer at Texas A&M at College Station, said companies typically have criteria that allow any worker to engage the system if problems get bad enough. ‘It's hard for me to imagine the situation where there's been a fire and an explosion and someone can't make that decision to hit the disconnect on their own,’ he said. Workers elsewhere on the rig were having problems of their own. Some were ‘told the situation was under control,’ even though it was ‘absolutely not,’ said Yancy Keplinger, a senior crew member. Benjamin LaCroix, a tank cleaner, said walls and ceilings were caving in and workers were running for their lives, and yet rig officials wanted to do a roll call. A couple of workers described a debate about whether they should be in lifeboats. Once workers finally started getting into the boats, it took several minutes to persuade officials to start lowering them. Once they did, the operator didn't know how to detach a boat from the rig. ‘It was only by the GRACE OF GOD that we didn't burn to death,’ LaCroix told investigators.”
It pains me to hear BP insinuating that this disaster could possibly have been caused by negligence on the part of rig workers. The situation described above is horrific, and could have been completely avoidable if proper training and policies had been in place. For goodness sake, an operator didn’t even know how to detach the life boat from the rig!!!! Clearly, safety was not a priority. There were eleven lives lost, untold numbers of jobs lost, an entire fishing industry lost and the devastation of the entire Gulf Coast ecosystem to prove it.
Something tells me that when things settle down a bit and the inevitable tightening of industry regulations occur, there is a good chance that the oil industry will be much more receptive to the idea of registered apprenticeship . I hope and pray that any new regulations that come of this will mandate registered apprenticeship training on oil rigs.
When I get that first phone call from an oil company, I’ll have the initial draft of apprenticeship standards ready. I won’t let them get away from me again.
In addition, a podcast highlighting the toolkit is now available at http://www.workforce3one.org/view/2001008822010257680/info.
These grant application tools may prove very useful for Registered Apprenticeship Community of Practice members, their partners, and stakeholders. Take a look!