Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oil and Water and the Principle of Imminent Collapse

What you don't know about the Principle of Imminent Collapse will kill you. It will kill many people, animals and plant life on which we depend. One only ignores the Principle of Imminent Collapse at the peril of our lives.

The 2010 hurricane season is soon upon us and there is oil in that there water that will be spread over the land in a fashion never before seen. It is not a matter of if, but when the storm will come. There are 14 to 24 major storm events predicted by NOAA for this year. Hurricane intensity numbers of 2, 3, 4 and 5 will have a much lesser degree of importance than whether the storm track coincides with the oil-laden waters of the Gulf of Mexico and possibly the East coast of the US if the oil tracks around the southern tip of Florida.

Hurricane Rita roared into the Gulf of Mexico and then skipped across the southern portion of Florida from the Gulf side to the Atlantic side. Katina took aim at New Orleans and made a storm surge of 17 feet carrying gulf water far inland. Flooding raised toxins and petro chemicals from the rivers and out of the damaged industrial plants along the Mississippi River. Now that the "source water" is so heavily laden with crude oil, it will be pushed ashore and be lifted by the evaporation and convection forces of the storms that make their way into the Gulf. We may even see oily rain coating everything for hundreds of square miles of land area far from the Gulf Waters.

The rupture of the pipes at the Deepwater Horizon well and the resultant spew of crude into the water may only be the smaller portion of the damage done to the global environment. When the oil reached the coastal marshes and beaches, that is when the greater damage was done. The oceans do have a large albeit finite capacity to mitigate the oil itself. Oil is an organic compound and there are natural processes that will degrade it over time. There is also the "Dilution Solution" where if it is churned enough, the concentration will fall. But the halving effect of adding equal parts contaminated water to uncontaminated water may indeed reduce the concentration of the oil but it doesn't eliminate it. Time will do that part.

The problem with allowing time to solve this problem is that we have so little of it until the first tropical depressions start heading toward the Gulf and the oil there. The 75 to 100 mph winds of even moderate hurricanes will pick up the surface oil and whip it inland. Oil plumes, still deep in the water will be pushed landward and be heaped up on the shores in a manner like never before.

As of the early month of June 2010, the oil has only been in the Gulf waters. The ecological damage to the shoreline was 24 miles of beach and marsh. That would only be the beginning. Thirty-three percent of the Gulf waters were placed of-limits for fishing. What we say about the magnitude of this oil drilling blow out in October 2010 will be the more significant.

When an Engineer ignores the Principle of Imminent Collapse he/she can set off a catastrophe of global proportions. It is not very comforting to think that everything could end with someone tripping over the extension cord.

One could argue that it was not a terrible decision to circumvent a safety measure for a system that has a small change of needing to be activated while it is off-line. Ordering a small change in a complex mechanical system may seem innocuous , but doing that was the cause of the skywalk collapse in Kansas City Hyatt Regency in 2001 that killed 114 people in 1981. Writing a test procedure that involved using a candle flame to check for air leakage around foam insulation in a nuclear power plant almost touched off a disaster of Chernobyl proportions at the Browns Ferry nuclear facility in 1975. One could argue that the use of 20/20 hindsight is not a good predictor of future events.

Past performance is not an indicator of how well a stock will do in the marketplace, is what every financial advisor and purveyor of recommendations to buy has to say to cover their butts. This being true doesn't exempt professionals from the responsibility of looking into the near future and saying, "if I do THAT, will THAT come back to bite me?" All too often the question is asked, "what is the worst case scenario?" Almost as often, the answer is wrong. The Carlson Corollary says that Murphy was an optimist.

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