08 April 2005

Getting it right and other Titan-ic issues

Without making it a great saga, I posted comments this morning about the province's response to the Titan booster issue and specifically some comments attributed to the Premier that came from a VOCM story. The story is still posted, so you can go and have a look at it for yourself.

As I have said before, VOCM is a news outlet than can describe a situation accurately in as few words as possible. Sometimes, though, interpretations can go astray or the few words chosen can lead people like me to make the wrong conclusion.

Here's the bit in question: "Meantime, Premier Williams says the incident drives home the need for a missile defence system. He is a strong backer of the part that Happy Valley-Goose Bay can play in such a system."

When I read that, I had a hard time figuring how anyone could link these two things together. My post - since deleted because I was wrong - focused on the idea that the linkage apparently drawn by the Premier was based on faulty information from various briefings he may have received. It fits with my overall interpretation that, based on what's in the public domain, this whole thing looked like a massive over-reaction on someone's part.

That said, let me make at least this much clear: the Premier's reaction, while full of his customary hyperbole, was entirely what I would have expected given the information he seems to have received. If I thought that there was a remote chance some gigantic rocket might possibly crash into the Hibernia rig, I'd be making a huge issue about it publicly, in addition to phoning anyone who could do something about it and making sure that there was no threat to life in the event the launch went ahead.

Full marks go to Premier Williams.

As I noted in "Massive Correction" someone else who was at the Premier's scrum put the whole thing in context for me. I can see where the issue came from - it was a huge stretch to even ask the question in this context - and the Premier's reply, as I have it, didn't draw a direct link.

There are still some lingering questions in my mind on this matter, despite the fact most news media have moved on to other things.

The offshore production platforms would certainly make my list of national strategic assets for several reasons. They certainly are major assets for the operators and I take it as a matter of course that the operators monitor potential threats to their property.

Aside from the economic implications of a complete shutdown of offshore production for any length of time, some other agencies like Coast Guard, National Defence, Transport Canada, Environment Canada and some provincial government departments could be called on to respond to any disaster like an impact on the platforms or in assisting in the evacuation.

On a number of levels, this Titan booster issue highlights the importance of emergency preparedness and the need for effective communication and co-ordinated action by public and private sector organizations. I am not saying this did not occur appropriately - sometimes excrement occurs - but the wider lessons/implications of this incident should not be lost.

In that context, though, I am still wondering:

1. When did one of the key players (operators, federal government, CNOPB, provincial government) become aware of this launch as a potential threat to the production platforms?

2. When did the first one who noticed alert the others, all of whom have parts to play?

3. What, if any, mitigation action was taken before ordering the evacuation of the platforms and the relocation of the semi-submersible platform? For example, if ExxonMobil spotted it, I suspect a call from their head office to Washington would have generated more than enough of a response given:

a. the economic value of the assets to US-owned companies;
b. the strategic value of oil to the US economy in the current world economy; and,
c. the fact that both the President and Vice-President are generally familiar with the oil business.

4. Who ordered the evacuation, or depopulation as it has been euphemistically called?

5. On what basis was the evac ordered?

6. Did Ottawa take action before or after the call from Danny Williams or was it more or less simultaneous?

7. Where exactly were the offshore platforms in relation to the anticipated debris zone? To my mind, this is a crucial issue to determine the validity of the evacuation order. Since rocket launches from Florida are not new, this contingency may have already been considered. Maybe it is a completely unique event.

These are just questions. Honestly, I don't know the answers nor do I presume to know them. I am just tossing them out there for consideration.

Incidentally, this incident has been described by some national media as a "test" launch. Wherever they are getting this from, it is wrong.

This is a routine event in every respect, except for the apparent implications for Hibernia and Terra Nova.