It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

60 Minutes Report for Real?

Sorry, but the 60 Minutes interview of the Deepwater Horizon survivor really strikes me as fiction. Why did "the lights get bright"? Don't they have circuit breakers on board? Why did his "monitor explode"? The last place on earth you'd see a CRT monitor these days is onboard a ship. Did the LCD pixels catch fire or what?

The whole rest of the story seems to me totally pitched at Hollywood. The stuff about lifeboats. The stuff about the captain. The stuff about the scared woman. Did he explicitly say she was gorgeous when she let her hair down and took her glasses off? He might as well have. The exploding doors. It really seems way too pat for real life.

I've been wrong before but my BS meters aren't wobbling just a little bit. Did anybody else have the same reaction?


Horatio Algeranon said...

Horatio's bogometer has been pegged since day one of this disaster.

BP seems to stand for "bogus propaganda".

Hank Roberts said...

The lights would indeed get bright in the conditions described -- combustible gas in the air, and diesel generators in use. It's a known hazard on drilling rigs.

Safety stops should have been in use (I mean, in an ideal world, with foresight, and precautions taken):

"AIR STOP engine air intake shut-off valves enable control over the operation of internal combustion engines. Installed in the air inlet line, they are used as basic mechanical engine shut downs, or as a safety device for protection against catastrophic diesel engine over-speed resulting from an inhaled hydrocarbon gas (gas leak) from the surrounding atmosphere."

Michael Tobis said...

Horatio, if it's BS, this would definitely not be BS from BP.

Hank Roberts said...

I read the descriptions days ago, not the one on the television, so my comments are about what I read shortly after the event. All the stuff I read there made sense. More detail:

> circuit breaker
"an overvoltage condition may not necessarily produce an overcurrent condition to interrupt the field circuit breaker."

I've seen this personally, we had one of those odd situations where the house lights would get brighter. A poor neutral connection at the electric meter was the problem -- whenever an electric motor (washing machine) shuts off the electric field collapses back through the magnets and puts a surge of electricity into the wires. The electrician told us it's not uncommon; it will cause a fire eventually if the electricity being pumped in during the spike shorts to nearby metal.

Cranking down hard on the set screws attaching the electric drop to the meter box fixed it.

> monitor explode
> door
With a lot of methane and probably other gases becoming mixed in the air, any ignition in a closed space (any room with a closed door; any computer, monitor, electric razor, whatever) could cause an explosion inside the contained space.

This is why when you open your front door and smell gas, you should back away really fast -- don't close the door, and don't turn on a light switch.

Hank Roberts said...

This is typical of what I read some days back:

Wow: this was news _before_ the recent blowout, now revived.

"... “As bad as the Deepwater Horizon is, it's one well,” Abbott told the Chronicle on Monday. “This is several wells with three or four times the capability of destruction ... and BP just isn't doing normal engineering practices ...”
Nineteen members of Congress previously called for a formal investigation into Abbott's allegations of missing safety documentation at Atlantis in February ....

MMS officials .... have yet to interview Abbott about his allegations, he said.

Abbott said he discovered the Atlantis platform lacked approved engineering documents for many of its crucial subsea components while building a database for BP as a safety consultant. He brought his complaints to Food & Water Watch and to Congress, initially as an anonymous whistle-blower.

Those documents, “as-built” drawings, are “road maps” for offshore workers, Abbott said Monday. “And if they don't have them, they can make tragic mistakes when there's a failure or an emergency shut-down, and I want to prevent that.”

Michael Tobis said...

Abbott seemed entirely serious, and his allegations are certainly worthy of concern.

It's Williams that seems to me like he might be the sort of guy who makes stuff up in barrooms all the time who decided to try his hand at the big leagues.

Again, this isn't an accusation. It's just a concern. I just want to know if I'm an outlier on this.

Horatio Algeranon said...

"definitely not be BS from BP."

True enough.

Hank Roberts said...

I'll defer to anyone who watches the interview on your remaining items. Dunno 'nothin' bout lifeboats or captains, and no comment on scaring ladies.

dhogaza said...

"The last place on earth you'd see a CRT monitor these days is onboard a ship."

Possibly, but given that you see them in older airliners, I doubt it. Remember that early LCDs suffered from limited viewing angles and were expensive. I was just on an older 757 that had CRTs in the cabin, didn't check the flight deck. I doubt they'll upgrade anytime soon given the financial troubles airlines have.

How old was this drilling platform? That's probably the key to whether or not CRTs rather than LCDs would be on board.

Rick H. said...

Twice blasted across the room by three inch thick steel doors? I don't think so.

Also wondered why the fate of the woman was never mentioned.

Dion said...

"Also wondered why the fate of the woman was never mentioned." Because 60 minutes edited that and many other parts of the conversation out?

Eyewitness testimony under extreme stress is very unreliable. Formation of memories can be interrupted by trauma, and I can personally vouch for that. I'm guessing the basic events of his experience are correct, with some details painted in.

His recollection of events before that day should be unaffected by the trauma of that day, which I'm sure was substantial.

skanky said...

"How old was this drilling platform?"

9-10 years IIRC from the brief bit of the hearings I saw the other day. I may have misunderstood the question, but it's at least that old, if I did.

dhogaza said...

"9-10 years IIRC from the brief bit of the hearings I saw the other day."

That's about when "glass cockpits" were making the switch to LCDs, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if the bridge/control room/whatever-they-call-it were outfitted with CRTs not LCDs.

Dion says:

" Formation of memories can be interrupted by trauma, and I can personally vouch for that."

I can personally vouch for that, too, having been involved in a violent, fatal car accident, innocently sitting at a red light (two cars, including mine, were totalled, a truck driver killed, another driver injured, I skated without a scratch). Let's just say my police report was lacking in accuracy and leave it at that ...

gravityloss said...

I've served on a ship that had CRT:s but that was by the turn of the millennium and the ship had been built in the early nineties...

You build some marine system and operate it, if it works you don't change it.
I imagine a drilling rig has much more systems than a small ship, many of them custom and specialist ones with possibly only a few commercial providers, so you have an even higher threshold to change anything as everything is very very complicated and expensive and requires down time.

David B. Benson said...

I opine that drilling rig plans specify CRTs, so CRTs are what is installed.

Ain't broke so don't fix it and the cost is a truely trival consideration.

Neven said...

Isn't this the way all Americans talk? Like their life is a movie?

I also thought the guy had all his quotes pre-written and memorized, but figured this is normal in the States because of American culture.

Andrew said...

Isn't this the way all Americans talk? Like their life is a movie?

Young fella, if you're lookin' for trouble I'll accommodate ya.

Jay Alt said...

Mr Williams just told essentially the same story to the Coast Guard inquiry board. Earlier this week TransAmerica execs (now based in Switzerland to avoid paying U.S. taxes) refused to show up on 5th amendment grounds. So I think it's safe to say William's testimony was done under oath.

And yes, I found his original 60 Minutes tale more believable than your analysis.

Michael Tobis said...

I talked to an engineer who works on oil platforms. He also found Williams believable. So perhaps I was wrong.

I still have a hard time with it since it's so cinematic.