Oil, Gas, and the Electoral College

An illustration from my profession, petroleum engineering, might shed some light on the Electoral College, and what the founders were trying to accomplish when they designed it.

So please indulge me. Don’t sweat the details. I promise I’ll keep it understandable and try to make a point.

Welcome to Cowlick County

Oil has been discovered in a remote corner of Cowlick County! In fact, eight wells have been drilled to date: There are five producers making 500 barrels per day total, and three dry holes that define the limits of the oil reservoir.

There are 25 farms of equal size in the vicinity. Each farm is a square tract owned by a different farmer. In the diagram below, green circles represent producing wells, black circles dry holes, and the large green oval delineates the extent of the accumulation.

12-7-2016-3-04-38-pm

How lucky for the farmers who own tracts B2, C2, B4, D4 and E4! All the other farmers within the outline can’t wait to have a well on their property, as shown below:

Drill, baby, drill!

12-7-2016-3-19-00-pm

The problem is, this scenario benefits no one, as a shiny-pants reservoir engineer has determined that the five original wells are all draining a common supply and should be quite sufficient to recover the estimated 1 million barrels of so-called”primary” reserves. The 14 additional wells simply compete with each other; each additional well guarantees that everyone ends up with a smaller slice of the same-sized pie. But you can hardly blame the owners of B3, C3, D5 et al for wanting a piece of the action.

The reservoir engineer has a better plan

12-7-2016-3-27-21-pm

The reservoir is better managed with a secondary recovery project. In this case, a single new well is drilled for purposes of water injection. Water will sweep oil toward producing wells while it maintains high pressure in the reservoir. The producing rates of the wells doubles, and we project that recovery of oil-in-place may be as high as 25%, 2.5x the recovery with no injection.

Pretty fantastic for Farmers B2, C2, B4, D4 and E4, eh, what!

Except that it’s not as easy as all that. Obviously, the owners of the wells can’t just traipse onto land they don’t own, in this illustration Tract C3, and take it over for their own . . . pursuit of happiness.

That’s where Unitization comes in.

In this simplified illustration, it is obviously to the benefit of the landowners (and their oil company lessees), and to the regulatory jurisdiction to cause a water injection project to happen.

Most states enjoy considerable economic benefit, direct and indirect, from oil production, in the form of income and severance taxes. The state’s oil and gas regulatory body (Dept of Natural Resources, Corporation Commission, Railroad Commission, etc.) has rules that are designed to:

  • Protect the resource and optimize its use;
  • Protect the environment;
  • Prevent waste (including preventing unnecessary wells from being drilled).

State rules generally support and sanction a project like the one illustrated above, but the affected landowners must agree on how they are going to split up the “pie”.  Typically a supermajority (~85%) is required to “pool” acreage; that means that owners of 85% of the area within the green outline must agree on how to share costs and revenues. By doing so, they create a larger entity — the Unit — from many smaller pieces. Once formed, each participating tract owner owns an undivided share of the whole.

This process is called “Unitization”. It is designed to balance the disparate interests of parties and to give each a share of the “pie” that can be deemed to be fair.

It works because all parties benefit from an agreement. Absent an agreement, nearly everyone is worse off.

The Formula.

In the illustration, the owners of the tracts where producing wells have been drilled are in the catbird seat. They have a stream of revenue, except that, absent an agreement, that stream is threatened if more drilling happens.

The owners of the undrilled tracts are needed if ever an agreement is to be reached. They need just compensation for not drilling a well.

A typical unit participation formula balances the value of current income against the ownership of the resource. In the example above, Tract E4 had 30% of “current income” but maybe only 5% of the total acreage in the reservoir. A simple formula might weight these factors 20%/80%, resulting in a 10% equity share of a much bigger pie for that tract. (20% of 30% is 6%; 80% of 5% is 4%; total 10%.)

With an agreement, Tract E4 ends up with 10% of 2.5 million barrels, or 250,000 barrels.

With an agreement, non-producing Tract C4 gets 8% of the same pie (20% of 0% plus 80% of 10%). That’s 200,000 barrels, without having to drill a well. Not bad.

So what does that have to do with the Electoral College?

The Electoral College came about in much the same way as an oil unit: Both involve previously separate and distinct entities with disparate, even unique, interests, but each of them perceive it is in their common interest to join forces.

The benefits of joining in union far outweigh any party’s individual benefit of going it alone. That was the deal in 1787; the dynamics work today to balance the interests of small and large states, resource-rich and resource-poor states.

A supermajority is required to reach an agreement. Supermajorities protect the rights of the outnumbered in a democracy. That’s why the Senate has a filibuster. That’s why we don’t amend the Constitution by a simple majority; instead it takes 3/4 of the States.

The Electoral College is not something that merely happened by chance. The Founders were savvy and sophisticated dealmakers. The contract they drafted to form our remarkable union of states has survived the stress of 230 years. Some would call the Constitution an anachronism; I call it a miracle.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Donald Trump, the Energy President?

This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote after Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address (emphasis in original):

I keep circling back to the central irony of the Obama Presidency: Obama could have been the Energy President. Clean, responsible North American energy security is within our grasp, and nothing would jump-start our economy faster than to make that commitment. Think Kennedy/Space Program or Nixon/China: every president since Nixon has promised progress on energy, and now, the president in 2012 is in a position to deliver.

But will he?

It would mean making workable compromises with industry. It might mean giving in on ANWR. It might mean telling the anti-development Luddite environmentalists who have loyally backed him to go pound sand. It might mean acknowledging that we’ve been sold an elitist bill of goods in Global Warming. It might mean backtracking on alternative energy giveaways.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Fast-forward to 2016: It didn’t happen. As much as Obama would like to claim credit for energy abundance and cheaper gasoline, the collapse in oil prices has more to do with (excessive) private investment in the shale boom and the Saudi commitment to nip it in the bud.

Judging from Cabinet-level appointments and names being mulled, Donald Trump intends to claim the title of Energy President. Consider:

  • Rex Tillerson at State.
  • Rick Perry at Energy.
  • Ryan Zinke at Interior.
  • Scott Pruitt at EPA.
  • Gen. James Mattis at Defense.

Of these, Interior is key. They set leasing policy on Federal and tribal lands, collect royalties, and regulate safety and permitting for offshore oil. Zinke, from Montana, has supported the Keystone XL pipeline and western coal. Montana is also an oil-producing state. Industry knows how to develop American mineral resources without sacrificing the environment.  Offshore regulation needs to become less oppressive and more pragmatic. Given Zinke’s bio (geologist, MBA, Navy SEAL commander), it’s safe to assume he has the requisite leadership skills.

Why is Defense important? The Army Corps of Engineers regulates the nation’s wetlands and waterways. Permit approvals are notoriously slow. A take-charge SecDef could patiently explain to the Corps the urgency of this task; I’m fairly sure they’ll see things Mad Dog’s way. There’s also the stalled Dakota Access Pipeline, which would bring 500,000 barrels of Bakken crude to refineries in the Midwest, replacing more expensive (and dangerous) rail transport.

The Keystone XL pipeline was hung up at State before Obama unilaterally nixed it. Trump really doesn’t need Tillerson on board (as if that were a hurdle); State’s authority derives from an Executive Order, which President Trump may choose to reverse using his phone and pen.

Energy has already had a shot fired across their bow. Good luck on the follow-through, Mr. Perry. And Mr. Pruitt is set to spoil EPA’s picnic with the green groups.

Beyond that, what could President Trump do?

Open ANWR, for starters. Alaskan North Slope production has declined steadily to about 450,ooo barrels a day (down from almost 2 million bpd at its peak). Without more North Slope drilling, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System throughput will decline to its critical minimum — about 200,000 barrels a day — in just a few years. (Graph below.)

alaska-n-slope-prod

As much as government can do to provide a less-hostile environment for energy development, investment (read: oil and gas drilling) will not happen unless and until operators perceive firm prices, now and in the future. Prices have run up lately, partly due to OPEC restraint. If we spur domestic development, that will be bearish for prices. Oil being a global market, there is little government can do to affect prices. But …

Trump (or at least Trump’s rhetoric) is unafraid of import tariffs. A tariff would offer domestic producers a price advantage over imports. As a conservative, I don’t like the idea, but with this guy, nothing would surprise me.

As a candidate, Trump showed that he understood the quick positive impact domestic energy development has on a region (Ohio, as one example). He obviously sees domestic energy as a tool for kicking a lethargic domestic economy in the backside.

All of a sudden, the greenies, watermelons, and whack jobs who oppose every pipeline and frack job will find themselves playing defense in a multi-front war, straining their capacity to resist. Stay tuned.

[Originally published 12/13/16. Remarks revised & extended 12/17/16. Crossposted.]

Posted in Elections, Energy, Environment, Fracking | Tagged | Leave a comment

Teats on a Bull

Willis Eschenbach is my favorite writer at wattsupwiththat.com. You really need to read his latest, “The DOE vs. Ugly Reality”.

It seems the Washington Post has the vapors over a letter that the Trump transition team sent to the Department of Energy. In it, the Trump team asks 74 probing questions of the agency, asking it to clarify such things as

  • the role of DOE staff and scientists in the climate debate;
  • DOE’s controversial “green energy” loan program;
  • redundancy in programs at the national labs;
  • Congressional authorization for staff and programs;
  • politicization of the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the primary data-gathering and reporting arm of DOE;

and so on.

If this is typical of the level of scrutiny that all the departments will undergo, it’s a wonderful thing.

Obama’s Fiscal Year budget for DOE is $32.5 billion. You can find out how they spend it, if you are patient enough to cut through the bureaucratese, here.

Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy in 1977, largely as a response to the second Arab oil embargo and a perceived shortage of natural gas. I graduated college in 1978 with a degree in petroleum engineering and have been engaged in the oil and gas business ever since. It may come as a surprise to the lay reader that the DOE plays almost no role in regulating the domestic oil and gas industry. (That role largely belongs to the Department of the Interior.)

 

It’s not that DOE doesn’t do important things. Some 20% of their budget goes toward cleaning up the nation’s Cold War-vintage environmental mess at Hanford WA, Savannah River SC and other places. The EIA is a great repository of energy statistics (a soon to be an apolitical one).

We also have to thank the DOE’s labs for the compact fluorescent light bulb and the mandate for dimmer clocks on our microwave ovens.

Ultimately, Jimmy Carter’s Energy Crisis was solved by the private sector. DOE labs participated with research and helped with seed money in the early days of shale drilling, but the credit for success belongs overwhelmingly to the private sector.

The oil and gas private sector has been under repeated economic stress. Thanks to price-driven boom-and-bust cycles, with severe busts in 1986, 1992, 1999, 2008 and 2014-16.

But as a government bureaucracy, the DOE’s growth has been steady throughout. In DC, 6% annual budget growth is a baseline, less than that is considered a cut.

It is high time that a government agency have to answer the questions facing the private sector every day.

  • Is what you are doing authorized?
  • Is it justified?
  • Is it redundant with another program, inside our agency or outside?
  • Is it critical to our mission?

 

Of course the Washington Post is offended. Unchecked government bureaucracy is the Capitol region’s primary economic driver. I am highly encouraged that the Trump team is asking the right questions.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BREAKING: USGS Did Not “Discover” 20 Billion Barrels of Oil in West Texas.

Oil and gas can only be discovered with a drill bit, and credit for the discovery goes to the entrepreneurs who risked private capital to make it happen.

The USGS hasn’t “discovered” sh*t. They compiled data from industry sources and estimated how much oil, gas, and gas liquids might be technically recoverable once drilled. Good work, but not a discovery.

The Geological Survey press release is accurate and fact-filled. Apparently the notion of “discovery” was created by journalists, then parroted by bloggers.

The Wolfcamp shale in the Midland Basin portion of Texas’ Permian Basin province contains an estimated mean of 20 billion barrels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of associated natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, according to an assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. …

(emphasis added)

That’s a world-class resource, on the order of the Alaskan North Slope. I’ll summarize the technical points of the press release:

      • The Wolfcamp Shale is not new. Operators have been producing vertical Wolfcamp wells since the 1980s.
      • More recently, operators have recognized a thick shale/tight sand sequence in the Wolfcamp/Spraberry (“Wolfberry”) geologic formations as a target for horizontal wells. More than 3,000 have been drilled.
      • USGS pencil pushers for the first time have compiled a comprehensive assessment of the resource. (I don’t use “pencil pusher” in a pejorative sense; I’m one of them.)
      • The estimate covers a wide range of possible outcomes. The mean (average) of those estimates is the 20 billion barrels reported. Could be more, could be less, probably by a wide range; it is a SWAG.
      • Importantly, “The Wolfcamp shale is also present in the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian Basin province, but was not included in this assessment.” So, more to come.

Conspicuously absent from the release is an estimate for the number of wells and the total cost of proving up this potential resource. (Hint: It’s a lot.)

President Obama famously (and repeatedly) said things like:

The United States consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but we only have 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves — 20 percent we use; we only produce 2 percent.* And no matter what we do, it’s not going to get much above 3 percent. So we’re still going to have this huge shortfall.

The president’s declaration misled because the distinction between “reserves” and “resources” is technical but significant. (Just ask the Washington Post if you don’t believe me.) Similarly, the difference between “discovered” and “assessed” matters, and it grates me to see any government agency assigned credit for a private accomplishment. Note also that credit goes to American independent companies, not “Big Oil”.

They did build that.

*  Wrong on a second count. The U.S. is one of the top 3 producers of oil. Domestic production accounts for 10% of global production.

Cross-posted at RedState.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Democratic Issues and Politicians Have Left Its Voters Behind, In Three Graphs (thx @ezraklein and @voxdotcom)

Candidates and issues, naturally, follow the money. It was my unscientific opinion throughout the Obama Administration that their politicians and policy were to the left of 85% of the electorate, and as we will see the results of the November election seem to validate that estimate.

Ezra Klein wrote an article at Vox.com in July 2014 titled “A stunning graph on how money polarizes politics”. I blogged about it here; in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, it’s worth revisiting (but not linking).

Ezra pointed out that fewer than four percent of voters actually contribute to political campaigns, and only 1/2 of one percent exceed the Federal reporting limit of $200. He used the graph below to demonstrate that the bulk of the money flows from political extremes.

laraja_schaffner1

Note that the “liberal” peak of donors is considerably narrower, and several points more extreme, compared with the “conservative” peak.

Graph #1 represents the 96% who only vote. It’s something like a bell-shaped curve skewed leftward. To compare it with the money donor graphs, I colored it orange and superimposed it on graphs #2 and #3. I also added a dotted vertical line to indicate zero, “neutral” on the issues. (The graphs are slightly blurry because the originals are not perfectly registered.)

11-17-2016-9-00-52-am

 

Peak Liberal Cash (especially in the big-donor graph on the right) is the domain of George Soros, Tom Steyer, Silicon Valley, trust fund babies, leftist academics and media elites. On this scale, its center of mass scores about -13 vs -5 or so for the typical (non-donor) voter. In fact, the gaping chasm between radical left-wing money and their average voter is quite startling.

On the right-hand side, Peak Conservative Cash is about +8 to +9 vs +5 for the voters. A gap, yes, but not too dramatic.

Imagine a slightly left of center voter, say -2 or -3 points on this scale. Maybe he/she is liberal on social issues but more centrist on economic and military policy. Given the skewed and extreme positions of Democratic money/candidates/policy, it’s easy to see that the message on the right may have more appeal.

The Democratic Party correctly judges that it lost its grip on the working class, “hidden” Trump voter. (Pssst — he/she’s hiding in plain sight, right in the big orange gaps in the graphs above.) The Dems’ response is to consider Keith Ellison for party chair and to let Lena Dunham and John Oliver represent the party in cultural outreach. This should be fun. Pass the popcorn.

Cross-posted at RedState.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the end, #NeverHillary wins.

We focus too much on the personality of the candidates. The office of the President of the United States is bigger than one person. The election of Hillary Clinton would mean the empowerment of a clique nearly 40 years in the making. Donald Trump may have a circle of hangers-on but no entrenched power structure in Washington, and that’s a good thing.

Hillary Clinton and those who surround her know the levers of government. Donald Trump’s inner circle will take six months to find all the bathrooms in the West Wing.

News item: Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik alerted Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta concerning the Department of Justice’s inquiry into Hillary’s email server.

News item:

So now we learn that the political backers of a longtime Clinton crony and fixer, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, made $675,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to the election campaign of the wife of the FBI official who later ran the investigation of Mrs. Clinton.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the contributions went to the 2015 Virginia state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of then-associate-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. … Andrew McCabe was [subsequently] promoted to deputy director, a role in which he assumed oversight of the Clinton e-mail investigation. [Link in original requires subscription.]

$675,000 for a longshot underdog in a state senate race? For a newbie candidate whose husband just happens to be associate FBI director, for crying out loud?! No way that passes the smell test.

Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, will not be afraid of a President Trump.

A President Trump would have an adversarial press corps. The loudest voices in the press now operate as a de facto PR arm of the DNC, specifically the Clinton machine.

Under a President Trump, the checks and balances built into our system of constitutional government would have a chance to work. Hillary’s email server was designed to thwart those checks and balances, including legitimate congressional oversight and FOIA.

My contemporaries and I came into political awareness during the Nixon Administration. We’ve seen that an unchecked executive surrounded by amoral power-seeking sycophants corrupts and destroys the system. That can happen again, no matter whether the President has an R or a D behind his or her name. As voters and citizens, we must pay attention to the signs and prevent it from happening.

The parallels with Watergate are strong. The DOJ and IRS are already more politicized than ever. A President Clinton’s top priority will be covering tracks, covering asses, and eliminating all opposition.

For weeks, I thought I would vote for Evan McMullin because of philosophical alignment and as a protest vote. He’s on the ballot here in Louisiana, and LA will be solid for Trump, so it would be a safe vote. I have no argument with McMullin voters.

In the end, though, #NeverHillary wins my vote. I’ve bought the Rocky Road ice cream, and I pray to God Almighty that it doesn’t turn out to be dog sh*t.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We Expect More Integrity From Our TV Game Shows Than From Presidential Elections

Last Friday, Abcess Hollywood released a hot mike audio of Donald Trump at his Trumpiest. The nation gasped and had its biggest “Oh, the humanity!” moment since Lakewood, New Jersey. Raise your hand if you were surprised.

We are collectively paying the price for celebrity worship. We are collectively paying the price for allowing the Media to blur the line between entertainment and news.

News shows play for ratings. Why be a News Reader when you can be a Star? Why report the news when you can be the news? I’m Leslie Stahl, I’m Morley Safer, I’m Mike Wallace. I’m Candy Crowley, and I’m smarter than a presidential candidate. I’m George Stephanopolous, and I’m so convincing playing “impartial”, I deserve an Emmy.

Meanwhile, so-called “reality” shows are anything but. The shows are heavily scripted and edited to play up attractive characters and downplay the cringeworthy ones. Producers instigate conflict because harmony doesn’t sell. Closing the circle, network news shows report reality show results as if they are actual news. Jenny was voted off Survivor Island! Who will be the next American Idol?

In the race for POTUS2016, the Republican candidate selection process played out like an extended season of The Bachelorette. The field of 17 included the obligatory stereotypes: the entitled Silver Spooner, the Tough-Talker from Jersey, two Striving Cubans, and the Black Guy who wouldn’t make it past Episode 4. Established Reality TV Star Donald Trump was the a**hole who had an instinctive knack for the game. OMG, can’t The Electorette see what a jerk he is?? But ratings are everything, and as the season-long drama played out more deserving suitors were voted off the Island one by one, until only Trump the Cad remained at the Final Rose Ceremony — the Republican Convention in Cleveland.

And it worked out that way because the Cad was good for ratings. Was good for ratings — in the primaries.

Now it’s the general and the name of the game has changed to “Who Wants to Carry the Nuclear Football?” Grown-up time. Trump must be destroyed.

The Trump P***ygate tape was from 2005. Certainly it was not newsworthy then, but it was newsworthy in, say, October 2015. Back then, the Abcess Hollywood tape would have been the RU-486 the Trump candidacy desperately needed, avoiding the painful late-term procedure that the Republicans have scheduled for November 8th.

Consider this Page Six story via Jezebel (a/k/a “She who must not be linked” – emphasis mine):

A source close to [Billy] Bush told us, “He told people at NBC about this tape. What if there was a transcript of the tape, and high-level discussions about when to release it? Which executives were involved, and why did they decide to suppress the tape until October, when they could have aired it in August? Was it an oversight or a strategic decision by NBC to affect the race? Billy was far from the only person at NBC who was talking about the contents of this tape. On-air talent does not make the decision when to air stories like this.”

In other words, NBC had the Trump-damaging tape months ago. They released it last Friday only because it scooped Billy Bush and Abcess Hollywood, who planned to run with on Monday.

Sound familiar?

herb_stempelMillennials may wish to review the Quiz Show Scandals of the 1950’s. The most notorious example occurred on NBC’s quiz show Twenty One. Reigning champion Herb Stempel had accrued $69,500 (a lot of dough in 1957) by correctly answering a variety of detailed questions across a wide array of topics. NBC bosses had a problem; the camera didn’t love the sweaty and Semitic Stempel, and Twenty One’s ratings were sagging.

thumbFortunately for NBC, a dashing young (and WASPy) Ivy League college professor named Charles Van Doren beat Herb Stempel. Ratings soared, even eclipsing I Love Lucy at one point.

Unfortunately for NBC, Stempel knew the game was rigged and had always been rigged. The show’s producers fed Van Doren the correct answers to the nearly-impossible questions in advance. Van Doren, briefly a media darling who had taken a job at NBC’s Today Show, resigned in disgrace. The aftermath resonated through the industry for years.

Sound familiar?

An email published Wednesday suggests that the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee had the text of a proposed question before a town hall event with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders earlier this year.

Donna Brazile, the chair, is then thought to have shared the question with the Clinton campaign.

The source is Wikileaks, which many suspect is Russia. For the record, I am opposed to Russian attempts to meddle in and sway the results of American elections. I am also opposed to NBC News’ attempts to meddle in and sway American elections. Just report the ******* facts.

By the way, “journalist” Natalie Morales has left NBC’s Today Show for a new assignment. At Abcess Hollywood, taking Billy Bush’s place.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Mark Twain probably didn’t say it, but it’s true nonetheless.

“It’s a shame that our electoral process doesn’t have the integrity of professional wrestling.” – C. Paul Hilliard, 2016.

Trump is right about one thing. The fix is in. The Infotainment/News is not part of the problem. It is the problem.

Posted in Elections, Popular Culture | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon

Now in general release, Deepwater Horizon stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams, an electronics tech stationed aboard the ill-fated drilling rig. The explosion and fire, which occurred off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010, killed eleven Transocean hands and led to the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S.

Good golly, was that just 6-1/2 years ago? A lot has happened since then.

Historically, popular culture’s treatment of the oil industry has run the gamut from stereotype to caricature. There Will Be Blood examined a legal principle called “the rule of capture”: “I drank your milkshake!” On TV, Dallas gave us characters more patently duplicitous and unlikeable than any of the 2016 Presidential candidates. (OK, so I exaggerate.) My favorite line of all time is from Urban Cowboy, when the leggy brunette Texan tells Travolta, “My daddy is in oil … and all that that implies.”

Deepwater Horizon doesn’t go there. Watching Deepwater Horizon, you get to meet the truly decent folk of the Gulf South that it has been my pleasure to work with and live around for most of my career. It rings true, it has heart, and it cares about getting the details right.

The screenplay was largely based on an excellent article in the New York Times which appeared in December 2010. I read the article and blogged about it at the time; the movie was clearly storyboarded from the sequence of events in the article. As I watched the movie, it played out pretty much as I had imagined from reading the article.

I won’t quibble about technical details; most of the things that seem “wrong” to a petroleum engineer are intentional; they help the narrative along. Deepwater Horizon, after all, is not a documentary. On only one occasion did I lean over in the theater to tell my wife, “That would never happen.” It’s the scene where the BP exec from Houston shows up at the Port Fourchon helicopter terminal in a necktie. A necktie!

Every story needs a villian: John Malkovich plays Vidrine, the BP “company man”, one of two operator representatives on the rig. (Rigs are mostly staffed by the rig owner’s personnel and various service personnel.) Malkovich’s Cajun accent owes a lot to James Carville, but I must admit he was pretty good, for a Yankee. Seriously, most non-native actors attempting a Cajun accent end up sounding like Justin Wilson on mind-altering drugs (See Adam Sandler in The Waterboy.)

The story is told from Wahlberg’s character’s perspective. He’s a relatable everyman, and does a fine job of it, even if he did experiment with several alternate pronunciations of “Schlumberger”. Kurt Russell as Mr. Jimmy, the rig’s OIM — essentially the captain of the ship — was terrific.

The depiction of the blowout and fire in the movie is harrowing and unforgettable. I can only compare it to the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan in power and intensity.

(Not that this rates a Plot Spoiler! warning): The movie narrative places culpability for the accident clearly on Vidrine and BP. The spill, cleanup and economic settlements would ultimately cost BP $40+ billion. As a corporation, BP plead to criminal charges and paid a large fine. The individual prosecutions dragged some people through the ringer but mostly went nowhere.

In the real world, most people are just folks looking to make a way for themselves and their families. Deepwater Horizon succeeds in telling the story of regular folks who find themselves — literally in a matter of minutes — face-to-face with earth’s untamable fury. On deepwater rigs, these men and women work 21-day shifts because we – and our thirst for oil – demand it. They work long shifts in the elements out of sight of land, and we forget about them, until an accident puts them in the news.

Go see Deepwater Horizon.

[At the time, I blogged extensively about the blowout, spill and aftermath. There’s a good selection at my Greatest Hits page, where about half of the posts are BP spill-related. Along the way, I got one thing wrong about the movie.]

Update 10/7/16: We saw Deepwater Horizon a couple of weeks after seeing Sully, and it struck me that there is a common thread between the two. Both portray human reactions to unprecedented catastrophes. One of the problems with events of this nature — “Black Swan” events per Nassim Nicholas Taleb — is that the human mind is programmed to force-fit new data into a “normal” narrative. They often don’t recognize just how bad their predicament is until it’s too late.

According to Taleb, the real world does not follow this statistical conceit [of a bell-shaped so-called normal distribution of possible events], even if it makes the math easy. The real world is governed more by Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”), and by Hale’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law (“There is no limit to how bad things can get.”).

Both movies also portray Federal investigations into tragedies. The nature of the beast is that someone has to be to blame. The more complicated the regulatory regime, the easier the job of the accident investigator. The accident investigators write the regs. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.

Posted in BP Spill, Louisiana, New Orleans, Popular Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘What’s Wrong With This Picture’, Denver Edition

img_2738

On a recent visit to the Mile High City, we stayed downtown. We visited the area near Union Station, an area that attracts all types of people.

One day, at mid-day, we saw a young man, mid-twenties maybe, sitting on the bench pictured above, holding the cardboard sign. He fit every stoner stereotype: skinny, dreads, stocking cap, and a dopey smile. He had fashioned the cardboard sign you see in the picture. (I’ll give him credit for that much initiative.) When accordioned open, it reads “WE NEED WEED”.

Openly panhandling for drug money is one thing. The funny thing is that this picture was taken while I was on my morning walk the next day about 8:00. This must be a valuable bench. Do panhandlers respect property rights? I assume the sign gimmick works for the kid — would a carpenter hold his parking space with his toolbox?

 

Posted in Popular Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

You’re troubled that Donald Trump ‘could have’ paid no taxes for 18 years. Can I then infer …

… that you support a flatter, fairer tax plan? A tax plan that closes many of the provisions of the tax code that a real estate developer would call ‘encouraging a public/private partnership’ but you call ‘loopholes’?

Because such plans exist. Here’s one. Here’s another.

Hillary Clinton says she plans to pay for new programs by targeting the top 1% of taxpayers. I think she’s disingenuous, but no matter. It won’t work, simply because people who are in that top 1% would rather pay an army of lawyers, CPAs and lobbyists rather than pay top rate on their full income. Hillary assumes they would sit still and pony up their fair share, but they never have before and they’re not about to start just because Hill is in the W. House.

Back in the olden days (1981) the tax code was broken. Tax rates (>70%) that were designed to be punitive to ‘the rich’ encouraged drilling dry holes for the write-off, building rail cars to sit empty on the sidings, and investing in bull semen when there weren’t even any bulls. Of course, setting up these tax shelter kept legions of lawyers and accountants busy, but no value was created.

Reagan dropped the top tax rate to 28%, if memory serves, and closed the loopholes that encouraged non-productive activity. Tax shelters shuttered overnight. The economy boomed. (Yes, gov’t deficits grew. Reagan never had a Republican Congress.)

A complex tax code empowers the political class. It gives politicians levers to push and pull and it makes lobbying and influence-buying/selling smart business. Just ask Mr. Trump. Then ask all those investment bankers and corporate sleazeballs who paid $250 K for a 20-minute speech.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment