Learning from failures – the case of oil spills

How well have different oil companies, drilling companies, and countries learned from oil spill disasters in the past?

In this video, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddox highlights the eerie similarities between the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 1979 and the deja vu version happening as we speak.

[Note that the video won’t show up in the email feed version – please click on the post title to view.]

How well have different governments learned from oil spill failures and incorporated those learnings into regulations? The law in Canada requires that a relief well is drilled simultaneously whenever an oil well is drilled. U.S. law does not impose this profit-reducing requirement on oil and drilling companies. Given that it apparently took nine months to get a relief well drilled to stop the spill that started in June 1979, the lack of such a requirement seems incredible given the “learning experience” back then.

When an event as catastrophic as this can’t motivate change, it’s no surprise that achieving genuine utilization of evaluation learnings is always going to be a major challenge.

How well have oil and drilling companies learned how to effectively manage spills like this in the absence of an existing relief well? As the above video points out, not much. But perhaps even more disturbing is a suggestion that the know-how does in fact exist for managing, directing the flow of, and scooping up a large spill.

One other fascinating and powerful YouTube video suggests that a combination of dysfunctional organizational culture and turf protection may be the real reasons for the completely ineffective handling of the spill to date. It’s another timely reminder of the many forces in play that prevent effective utilization of evaluation findings.

IMPORTANT: We provide a link to, but haven’t embedded, this second video “BP fails Booming 101″ because of the excessive use of colorful language (of the “f” variety). Please don’t click on the link if you are highly sensitive to such languageĀ  – there’s a well-explained reason for it (it’s a well-infused part of the oil drilling culture), but there’s a lot of it, so be warned!

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