THE EXPERTISE OF THE NOC HEADS
On May 22, President Obama signed an executive order approving the assembly of a seven-member team, the National Oil Commission (NOC), to investigate and make recommendations regarding the BP Horizon/Gulf Oil Spill disaster that began with an oil rig explosion in April. According to the NY Daily News, Barack Obama declared, “Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge.”
Oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from April 20 to July 15, 2010. Perhaps the NOC team members could have been sent in scuba gear down to the wellhead with a two ton egg of silly putty. Perhaps Obama should have accepted the help of at least some of the 13 nations who offered immediate cleanup assistance so that oil would not ooze onto the shores of Louisiana. (The countries were Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom). Now that the well is capped, however, the NOC team members want to do their part for America’s future.
The National Oil Commission, co-chaired by former chief of the EPA William K. Reilly and former Florida Senator Bob Graham, follows the examples set by similar federal-appointed committees of the past, such as those assigned to report on the 9/11 and Challenger Space Shuttle tragedies. On July 12th and 13th, the commission held their first public meeting in New Orleans to discuss their objectives and to allow a public forum for business owners and concerned residents. The same week, the Obama administration offered a revised moratorium on deep oil drilling meant to replace earlier moratoriums that have been turned down by court rulings in the past six months. The current ban would lift November 30th of this year.
Media coverage and the public have voiced the same questions to the National Oil Commission: Do the Commission members have any qualifications for inspecting oil well operations? Do they have any expertise in the oil industry? And what will become of the unemployed workers and decimated industries of the Gulf?
The NOC Mission:
The NOC is charged with a three-fold mission, according to CNN, to: “determine why the oil rig exploded; make recommendations about preventing similar disasters; and determine whether offshore oil and gas drilling should continue.” With this intelligentsia team’s starting line-up, however, they seem much more qualified to analyze the impact of the leak rather than its causes, and are likely to heartily recommend shutting down the wells.
Andrea Tanteros of the New York Daily News expressed a common criticism of Obama’s oil-spill panel in her June 17th article, “Obama’s bogus blue-ribbon panel” when she wrote, “Relevant experience aside, how can we expect a fair reading of the facts when the seven wiseheads have a predetermined negative opinion on big oil – and will likely try to assign blanket wrong across the industry for the actions of one bad actor, BP?”
So, who made it onto the team?
The NOC Members:
The seven people appointed to the Oil Commission are definitely smart people with excellent credentials in a variety of areas.
William K. Reilly was Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency under George H. W. Bush and helped investigate and comment on the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. He has a BA in History from Yale, a law degree from Harvard, and a Master’s in urban planning from Columbia University. Among other accomplishments, he has served as the President of the Conservation Foundation and President of the World Wildlife Fund (both now merged under the WWF).
Bob Graham, Democrat from Florida, retired from the Senate in 2005 with an 83% approval rating. He has a Bachelor of Law from Harvard, and he was a finalist for running mate for John Kerry during the 2004 race. He is also current Chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. While on the Senate, he established the government-funded Save the Everglades program and helped the state to purchase thousands of acres of land for environmental protection purposes.
That’s all great stuff, but what does any of it have to do with stopping future oil spills?
Frances Beinecke of New York is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She earned a Master’s from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Frances Ulmer was the first female Lieutenant Governer of Alaska and served as a Democratic governor for 18 years, and is now chancellor of the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She holds a JD from the University of Wisconsin Law School and has been a member of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, the Federal Communications Commission’s State and Local Advisory Committee, and the Federal Elections Commissions Committee. (Let’s repeat… commissions committees.)
Donald Boesch is a professor of Marine Science,Vice-Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability at the University of Maryland, and president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, which advises public agencies and more on environmental matters.
Cherry Murray is Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in 2002 made Discover Magazine’s “50 Most Important Women in Science.” She earned a PhD in physics from MIT. Among her specialties are experimentation with light scattering and photonic behavior.
Terry Garcia of Washington, DC, is the executive vice president for mission programs for the National Geographic Society. His father emigrated from Spain, and Garcia was raised in Florida. He helped to carry out the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Plan for Prince William Sound and Gulf of Alaska while with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Finally, a bit of relevant experience!)
As NPR’s Greg Allen reported on July 13th, “[Louisiana Senator] Landrieu had been skeptical of the commission’s make up, because it included no one with hands-on oil and gas industry experience. Yesterday she said she was encouraged by the fact that it hired a former Shell VP as a key commission advisor.”
That former Shell VP is Richard Sears, a highly-revered geophysicist who for years was an offshore drilling expert and engineer for Royal Dutch Shell and has written and spoken widely on the subject of ultra-deepwater offshore drilling. He is now a visiting scientist at MIT and is affiliated with MIT Energy Initiative, the goal of which is to “help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today’s energy systems.”
Still, Sears may not be the oil company’s best friend. His current area of interest is to focus on finding alternative, carbon-free energy sources. He says that oil’s use as an energy source peaked in 2007 and is now on a much-needed decline. He’s referred to as a “gamechanger” at LeadingEnergyNow, which helps businesses to retrofit fixtures to be more energy efficient and thus more eco-friendly. He’s spoken on “Planning for the End of Oil.”
Media critics underline that this exploratory and advisory committee seemingly contains no members who have expertise in building or operating oil rigs. President Obama claims that the purpose of the commission is to discover the cause of the leak and to stop and prevent such leaks in future; and therefore – it would seem – should have employed oil rig engineers and those who specialize in the actual physical construction of the rigs. His appointees are intelligent, well-qualified folks for environmental study. But, we already know the effect of spilled oil on the environment: disastrous and deadly. What we need to know is how it happened and how it could have been prevented.
Apparently President Obama wants to stop future leaks through the Richard Sears method, by de-carbonizing our energy systems and looking to alternative energy sources altogether.
• Oil Disaster Commission Faces Unique Challenges – CNN
• Obama Names Rest of Commission to Investigate Gulf Oil Disaster – CNN
• US Not Accepting Foreign Help on Oil Spill – Foreign Policy
• Science Advisor Joins National Oil Leak Commission – CNN
• National Oil Spill Commission Begins Two-Day Hearing In New Orleans – WWLTV
• Obama’s Bogus Blue-Ribbon Oil Spill Panel Has No Expertise – And Is Poised To Do His Bidding – New York Daily News
• Bye-bye BP? – New York Daily News
• Presidential Oil Spill Panel Holds First Hearing – NPR
• Richard Sears: Planning For The End Of Oil – TED
• Energy Wars: The Coming Crunch – Koinonia House