Sunday, May 09, 2010

maybe what i'm trying to say...

When you listen to/read the news, things don't seem very good. Some things are very irritating, also-- because they are hard to believe. For example, a financial situation in Greece seems to have caused some freaking out in investment land. Then, or so it seems, this caused conditions in the stock market that triggered a cascade of automated stock sell-offs.

The BP oil Spill in the Gulf-- this was hard to believe, at first, that it could even happen. Then it was sort of mysterious, why such severe damage to this huge oil rig, where were the missing people and so on. Then, it took on very awful proportions, and now it is starting to come out that the reason for the explosion had to do with a pocket of methane gas and a sequence of procedures that led to the release of the gas. I was listening to NPR radio in my car when this was being discussed, and I heard a quote from an expert who said "they made a really dumb mistake, they took the weight out of the pipe before they set the seal". I didn't catch the name of that expert, but it seemed like his opinion was that the procedure that was applied was irregular. Now, what most of the news is saying at this point is that "a chemical reaction" occurred in the eement that was being used to create a seal, that in turn caused the gas to expand suddenly.

Now, I know next to nothing about this stuff, it is both interesting and frightening that people have the knowledge to draw oil up from that deep beneath the seafloor, and also understand that how methane gas at that depth can behave (freezing and so on), and also use deep sea remote controlled robots to attempt to clear away the problem, etc..

I also know that when cement sets it gets very warm, and if the methane gas was frozen and the cement got warm enough to melt it, it seems very likely a bubble would happen. But this should not be a mystery, it is very predictable.

What seems most clear is that if you are poking holes into a planet and are not sure what will come up and are also not able to control whatever comes up, then you had either be doing that in a place where it doesn't really matter what ultimately comes up and how it comes up, or you shouldn't be doing it at all.

Unfortunately for everybody, they were doing this in a place were it matters a lot, abd the government is right to insist they stop doing it until they can guarantee this can be avoided.

And in all of this, maybe what I am trying to say is that everyone ends up trusting people who are experts at what they are doing, but at the same time these experts have great difficultly explaining what happens when something goes wrong-- not because they can't, but because it is very complicated and requires signficant data and analysis thereof. The more complex things get, the more complex the explanations will get, and it also seems like the more disastrous the consequences can be.


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