When the BP headquarters in Houston got word from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform there was an accident on April 20, 2010, it was almost 40 years to the day since the worst accident in the Apollo space program history took place on April 13, 1970.
That fateful message came from Apollo 13 as it streaked toward the moon under the command of James Lovell and an equipment malfunction never before encountered faced the scientists, engineers and computer jocks working to conquer space. It took the greatest mobilization of minds and the greatest American outpouring of prayer but by April 17 the crippled spacecraft had miraculously been safely landed back on earth.
Today, 40 years later, we face a similar impending catastrophe and once again it will take the greatest minds of scientists, engineers and computer jocks, along with the greatest outpouring of public support and prayer to avoid an even greater disaster.
The BP oil rig was pioneering deep water drilling reaching depths never before achieved, with the well going 35,000 feet below the ocean surface. If successful the technology would help make a giant leap forward toward American oil independence from foreign oil opening the way for billions of barrels of new, American offshore oil reserves for commercial production.
Far below the surface in pressures never before experienced, some 1,000 times more powerful than pressure on the water's surface, something went wrong and tragically, 11 experienced, dedicated oil veterans were killed as the rig exploded. Yet a more daunting task lie ahead, trying to cap a spewing well 5,000 feet deep and covered with 32,000 tons of debris from the rig that sank to the Gulf floor.
Washington politicians, as usual, immediately started finger pointing and issuing threats. Even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs jumped into the bitter political environment with his reiteration of the threat by Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that Obama would "keep the boot on the neck of BP," a divisive and counterproductive ill-timed comment.
When faced with a technological crisis playing the blame game will never be a successful strategy. Some parts of the government responded, like the Coast Guard, but mostly it was more of the same from Washington. Politicians should keep their political shenanigans in our nation's capitol, we have work to do to help heal our nation on the Gulf.
Quietly, like Americans have always done when faced with a national crisis, the people set about the task of preparing for the worst and unselfishly offering to help. BP asked for the best minds from competitors like Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Conoco and Anadarko among others to help them devised a solution to the seemingly impossible task of stopping the 210,000 gallons a day of crude oil.
They came up with a plan never before attempted at such a depth to build and drop a 100 ton cone on the well 5,000 feet down. The first of three cones has been finished and it currently on the way to the site. By this weekend we will know if a major environmental disaster can be avoided.
But this doesn't just have national implications. There are over 8,300 offshore drilling rigs in operation around the world. All nations of the world will benefit from a successful response to this accident.
Offers of help have poured into the State Department from around the world as 13 nations and the United Nations have offered their people, equipment and resources to help stop the leak. U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico are among those offering equipment and experts in containing and cleaning up the leak from the BP oil rig that exploded April 20.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday that the Coast Guard is evaluating the needs of the cleanup operation and will decide what, if any, aid to accept in the coming days. Also offering aid are Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the U.N. Environmental Program.
The response has also come from the people of America in ways the government, so caught up in political bickering, would never even consider. Hair salons from across the country have been collecting hair and sending it to the Gulf coast to be rolled into absorbent cloth and used to absorb oil that may reach the shore. Hair is a powerful absorbent and thousands of people are responding to this call for help.
Many others are flocking to the Gulf coast to help with the clean up of any oil that reaches the beaches and marshlands, to help with wildlife recovery and care, and to help in any way possible. These offers of help from the little people of America, people I refer to in my book The Joshua Chronicles as the "Raggedy People", the silent multitudes upon whom a new civilization will be built, reflect more of the spirit of America than politicians could ever hope to be.
They know the game of politics no longer works. They know now is not the time for blame but for hope, inspiration, dedication and innovation to overcome this potential disaster. Obama and Congress should be encouraging these efforts to help by the citizens, corporate community and other nations and save the blame game for later.
Today is the National Day of Prayer. Prayer works. It did for Apollo 13 and it can for the Deepwater Horizon crisis. If only our politicians would join together in prayer for the success of this massive international effort and this dramatic mobilization of the people we could all stand united in our purpose and maybe the prayers will be heard.
No one wanted this disaster to happen. BP has over 80,000 employees whose jobs are dependent on the oil being delivered safely. Millions of people are employed directly in the oil and gas industry and many millions more have jobs dependent on the oil industry. We all benefit from their efforts and our quality of life is much improved because of them.
America and Americans will help get us through this crisis, even if the politicians continue to stammer and sputter in Washington. It would be nice if our leadership would focus on the problem and help to mobilize and encourage those who are dedicated to solving problems, not compounding them. It would also help if they would attend their own Prayer Day activities and really listen to the message of the priests, ministers and rabbis. We are all in this together.