So let me address just one particular outrage: Why hasn't President Obama taken charge?
I'm wondering exactly what the people expressing this outrage want President Obama to do. They haven't been specific beyond "taking charge."
It's pretty clear to me that nobody has a definitive way to stop the well. I know a little about drilling, probably enough to get me a response from a reader who can find something wrong in what I'm going to say. But here is what I've gleaned from the coverage of the situation.
The well is in deeper water than has customarily been drilled for oil. BP has a bit of experience in these deep waters, but nobody else does, and BP's experience amounts to a few wells. That means everything is more difficult. The pressures are enormous, and getting equipment down to the well is more complicated. No runaway well has been capped under these circumstances before. There is a lot that is not known about the well, even by BP. If they had known, the blowout would not have occurred. What is not known is the condition of the well and possibly the situation in the reservoir.
We don't know how much oil is coming out of the well. BP probably is genuinely confused and trying to put all its resources on a solution and probably, as well, would like to control information to its advantage. The government is putting together a team to evaluate the data. This team has a somewhat better chance of coming up with useful results than the team charged with getting solutions.
However, all that water between them and the well is going to make that hard. It's possible to come up with ideas like this one, but they will take time and lots of money to implement.
In an article published in the British journal Nature this week, UC Santa Barbara geochemist David Valentine said that dragging gas sensors through the waters near the spill could provide data on how much methane was lurking in the ocean. From that figure, the volume of oil could be derived, he said.There seem to be a number of assumptions here, the biggest of which is that we know the ratio of methane to liquid petroleum. And when an academic says that "the idea has been floated," that suggests to me that he hasn't provided the kind of proposal that would be needed for a decision.
We clearly can't trust BP to make decisions that are in the country's best interests, although maybe the libertarians are right and the spotlight on them and the prospect of all those lawsuits will concentrate their minds.
But back to the outrage.
The scientists don't know how to stop the well. From what I know, BP's current plan to plug the well and then cap it sounds like the best available. BP has the equipment to do that; I doubt that the government does, and, if it did, mobilization and staffing takes time.
So if Obama "took charge," what exactly would he do? Order up some different regulations? That would depend partly on Congress and partly on the agencies. And it wouldn't stop the oil. That needs to be done later.
Get some injunctions against the companies involved? Put people in jail? This is procedural, too; would take time and doesn't stop the oil. It would also distract people from focusing on dealing with the well.
What he might do is find ways (and he wouldn't do this himself, staff would) to pull the data out of BP. Data on the geology around the well, flow measurements, proportions of gas and liquid, records from the well drilling and completion. These would be useful to the teams working on figuring out what is going on and possible solutions, but working through the data will take time, people, and money. So BP might as well go ahead with what they're doing while others do some analysis. There probably would have to be legal action to get the data, or vigorous jawboning of BP.
So what do these outraged people want Obama to do in "taking charge?"
Update: These are the guys who put out the fires in Iraq and will most likely kill the BP well.
And I didn't mention the political problem.
5/24/10: More from the WaPo. Nobody they've talked to has any better ideas than BP does. The biggest gripe against the administration is coming from Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who is understandably upset. And just possibly has partisan motives.