The conventional explanation for Obama’s disappointingly low-key speech is political prudence, aka cowardice: he doesn’t think a radical energy bill with cap and trade is winnable before the November election, or even worth waging a losing fight for to make a point. See this ridicule from Jon Stewart and an alternative rant from Rachel Maddows.
But ss Mark points out, Obama’s successful armtwisting of BP – immediately followed by the terrific own goal of Republican Rep. Joe Barton apologising to BP for the nasty man – does not suggest that the President has gone soft.
There is another explanation – and it should scare you. Obama may have been advised that the worst is yet to come. Via Julia Whitty at Mother Jones, we learn of industry insider “dougr” saying (not, I stress, uncontested by his peers):
All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking …
[snip long section on the failure of kill attempts and the progressive breakdown of the well structure]
… the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn’t any “cap dome” or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now?….is the only real chance we have left to stop it all.
It’s a race now…a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it’s last gasp in a horrific crescendo.
Now you and I aren’t in a position to evaluate the likelihood of this nightmare scenario. But Obama and Hayward are. And their public actions are entirely consistent with it. Why did Hayward and Svanberg give in so easily to the demand for a $20bn escrow fund? It makes sense if they realize the disaster is unstoppable and their company is basically bust.
It also explains Obama’s speech. He likes to lead from behind: point a direction, wait for events, then step in with a solution. If the well is going to be capped and the loose oil scooped up soon, the opportunity for a bold initiative was unique and he’s blown it. But if the situation is going to get much, much worse over the summer, then events are playing into his preferred method. As the coasts die, the pressure for action will build and build, and Obama can ride the wave to a new energy policy.
The price of saving the world’s climate may be the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure I want this or not.
Update 18 June
An afterthought. It’s a hole in my theory that Obama did not qualify his assurance that “in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well.” He did warn the the American public in two places that there’s more damage to come – “The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years … no matter how effective our response is, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.”
How about this coda to save the appearances. He’s left BP in charge, and officially has to accept their assurances about capture of the “leaking” – spewing! – oil, documented in the paper trail. But they are lying, in the higher interests of their stockholders. He is a skilled politician and good at detecting when people are lying to him. Perhaps also Chu’s brains trust of top non-oil scientists are telling him that they don’t believe BP either. Qualifying the assurance with “probably” would open up this dispute, create a media storm focused on the White House, not BP, distract the efforts in the field, and possibly create panic in coastal communities. So Obama was forced to lie himself in the higher national interest. He doesn’t like lying for reasons of state, which helps explain his low key.
Update 22 June
A BP internal document from May just released by Rep. Markey concedes that in a counterfactual worst-case scenario, if the “blowout preventer and wellhead are removed and if we have incorrectly modeled the restrictions, the rate [of oil flow] could be as high as 100,000 barrels a day.” This is the highest number yet from an official source. So BP thinks the reservoir is trying to push out that much, though insisting that their well will not collapse to allow it.
Update 23 June