Absolutely Safe?

On Tuesday, I wrote about the numerous false statements in President Obama’s Oval Office speech on the oil spill in Obama’s Long Nose. Byron York points out one that I missed: “Who told Obama drilling is ‘absolutely safe’?”

There was one particularly striking moment in President Obama’s widely panned Oval Office speech on the Gulf oil disaster. About midway through his talk, Obama acknowledged that he had approved new offshore drilling a few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20. But Obama said he had done so only “under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe.”

That is, of course, ridiculous. In the world of engineering, nothing is “absolutely safe”–certainly not deep-sea drilling. No one will take responsibility for giving Obama this alleged assurance:

So how did the president get the idea that new offshore drilling would be absolutely safe? Obama has often said he relies on a “green team” for advice on energy and environmental decisions. The top three members of the team are the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, Carol Browner, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Did Browner, or Salazar or Chu assure the president that new offshore drilling would be “absolutely safe”?
No, says a spokeswoman for Chu. “That is actually a question for the Department of the Interior,” says the Energy Department’s Tiffany Edwards. “The secretary of energy is not involved in that decision making.”
Well, then, perhaps it was Salazar or Browner. But a spokesman for Salazar did not respond to questions. Neither did a spokesman for Browner.

As Byron writes, absolute safety is foreign to the way in which experts talk about complicated enterprises like deep-sea drilling:

That’s certainly not the way experts talk about the issue. When discussing projects like offshore exploration, engineers often use the phrases “PF,” which stands for probability of failure, and “CF,” which stands for consequences of failure. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a classic low-probability, high-consequence event. Even with good safety procedures, strange combinations of human error, mechanical failure and sheer bad luck can combine to cause a devastating accident. “There has been a constant improvement in safety, but you can never say that a very low probability but very high consequence event is impossible,” says Ken Arnold. “You can never say that.”

It seems obvious that Obama was lying to cover his own rear end. It is inconceivable that any expert told him that deep sea petroleum exploration is “absolutely safe.” Obama no doubt was trying to defend himself against criticism of his approval of ongoing Gulf drilling. It’s just one more example of Obama’s willingness to lie when it’s necessary to advance his political interests.

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