BP as Inverse-Icarus: The Hole to Hell is Drilled with Good Intentions (A Transhumanist View on July 13 of the Oil Spill)
A Transhumanist view on July 13 of the Oil Spill
As I write this, British Petroleum is claiming that they’ve got the spilling oil well in the Gulf of Mexico capped, and seems to be implying that the worst is over. Though the ramifications of the BP oil spill will take years to understand, unfold, and transform aspects of business, regulation, and society’s approach to energy, now is as good a time as any for an H+ overview of the BP oil spill. Here are a dozen points:
1: The entire process seemed very clumsy and “future-stupid” to many people. I shouldn’t put quotes on future-stupid, since I coined the term just for this article, but there just didn’t seem to be a better way to put my finger on why the entire debacle was so upsetting. Future-stupid is in contrast to future-savvy. If I had to say what caused the problem, it would be “too much future-stupid and not enough future-savvy.” In other words, it seemed as though BP were drilling its first well, and hadn’t really thought through very much at all, and was like a (huge) deer caught in headlights.
2: When I polled a number of science and technology people about how future-savvy BP was, on a scale of 0 to 10, (0 is nothing futuristic, 10 is the most stunning, brilliant use of advanced science, technology, and process you’ve ever seen), the average score was 2 (two).
3: I was surprised not to see any useful or thoughtful official “position” from Democrats, Republicans, Catholics, or any other group that said what they thought the underlying general or specific cause of the explosion and oil spill was, nor how to most effectively clean it up, nor what to do in the future to prevent this from happening again. Yes, there were many complaints and cries of anguish. And there was outrage at seeking to place a moratorium on offshore drilling. And there was that idea that —like a bad guest — wouldn’t go away… blasting the hole with a nuclear bomb. But nothing was offered that was whole, coherent, logical, and yet philosophically consistent with all these different political, religious or other camps.
4: I came to the conclusion that most existing ways of looking at the world run out of steam when exposed to something new, and that Transhumanism is a way of thinking about applying technology that was underutilized. Conclusion: too little Transhumanism could make a small disaster into a very large one.
5: My own opinion is that BP was conducting what amounted to an unprecedented experiment, what almost amounted to mad science. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was one of only two of its kind. The other, Deepwater Nautilus, had the same structure, but different equipment — like the same model car, but with completely different options package. Deepwater Nautilus ended up needing a fair amount of servicing. My Lexus virtually never ever needs servicing. The Deepwater Brothers were not like my Lexus. This is about to be significant.
6: BP reportedly only had a drilling permit down 18,000 feet. The technical specifications put the depth limit for Deepwater Horizon at 30,000 feet. However, when the accident happened, oil was being drawn up from 35,050 feet — 5,050 feet beyond even those technical specifications (documents now seem to have been revised to show the technical specifications as 35,000 feet). This is not a trivial matter. It was within 10% of being an extra mile deep, on a rig that was one of a kind, or at most, two of a kind. Who knew how things would work at this depth? As far as I can tell as of this writing, this was a world record depth, and it wasn’t into a stable strong, Manhattan bedrock bottom. It was into a massive methane bubble that was above the oil. Methane is CH4 — a gas with a large coefficient of expansion. You heat it, it expands (more than other, longer chain hydrocarbons). The oil was hotter, and heated the methane as it traveled through the gas. Here’s the summary of the permit for the Deepwater Horizon. Notice that there is only the tiniest hit of the disaster — the word, “Sunk.”
7: I see BP as an inverse-Icarus. You remember the story of Icarus — the young man who put on wings of wax and feathers who tried to flap his bird costume, like Angel of the X-Men, and fly to the sun. The sun melted the wax on his wings and he fell to earth and was killed. BP was like Icarus. I think BP actually wanted, like those crazy kids who stuff their mouths with hot dogs to win an eating contest, to set a record. And that was behind this decision to go for the world record drilling depth, bypassing concerns about safety, and the fact that there was very little or no experience at drilling and producing oil at these depths.
8: With respect to the clean up, I was baffled that oil eating bacteria were rarely mentioned — they were mentioned even more infrequently than nukes! Oil eating bacteria were the first life forms to be patented, and have been known about since 1971. That’s 39 years. And yet, it seems as though BP never thought about using them on a large scale. While oil eating bacteria’s effectiveness has not been proven on anything near this scale, and there are “challenges,” this may have been (and may still be) the time to experiment while improving the method in progress. One “future-savvy” thing I would have suggested would have been to test many tanks of different oil eating bacteria in different temperatures, pressures, and locations, with different accelerants, and with some PhDs knowledgeable in the directed evolution of bacteria trying to make these creatures even more effective.
9: I don’t understand why many different types of bacteria were not sprayed on different sections of the shoreline, and groups allowed to compete to see whose bacteria were the most effective in cleaning up — a sort of X-Prize with cash reward offered, to the winner of Cleanest Shoreline Post-Spill.
10: I think Seacrete or Biorock could and should have been used. If you put wire mesh in the ocean and run a weak electric current through it, it starts to form a hard crust over the wires. This becomes as hard as concrete on dry land (concrete wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t ever dry — Biorock stays wet all the time). This hard crust is attractive as the base for coral reefs (if they are close enough to the surface for some sunlight in the water) and many other animals are attracted to this new animal habitat.
11: In the future, I think companies that drill should post a disaster bond. Those companies who have expertise in — and who are developing the technology for breeding oil eating bacteria would get lower costs of insurance than those, like BP, that seemed completely hapless and clueless in this regard.
12: Every so often, I get an email that tells me when a donation is made to the Humanity+-endorsed OpenCog project, spearheaded on our side by Dr. Ben Goertzel, a world-renowned expert in Artificial General Intelligence and author of 12 books on AGI, AI, creativity, and intelligence. For the most part, the people sending money are students or those who don’t have a great deal of money, but they are given their best with limited means to advance the ability of machines, presumably including submersible robots, to do things. I am still waiting for BP (or any oil company) to take a hint from the fact that freakin’ robots were all that stood between them and the world’s largest lynch mob. If I were at BP, I would have done a Google search, found Dr. Ben, got up to speed on OpenCog, and said, “How big a check do you need to get robots to the point that they can just GO and fix the pipe if and when something like this ever happens again.” And I, as myself, would put my pinkie to my lip and say, in my Michael Meyers as Dr. Evil voice, “One MILLION dollars! And go get 20 of your oil company friends to do the same” And for that, about a minute worth of profits each, we would have a better chance at having the smartest oil-pipe fixing robots, and about a thousand other smarter things, and a flood of something good and future-savvy, rather than something smelly and deadly, would flood the world. All it takes is more Transhumanism.
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