Former Shell Oil civil engineer and Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Bea speaks on Hurricane Harvey

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“I grew to call the oil industry the rape, pillage and plunder industry”

Former Shell Oil civil engineer and Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Bea speaks on Hurricane Harvey

By
Barry Grey

1 September 2017

Robert Bea is a retired civil engineer and professor emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California at Berkeley. He has had a long career in the fields of flood control and risk assessment and management, beginning in 1954 when he joined in the Army Corps of Engineers.

He was appointed chief offshore civil engineer at Shell Oil in 1965 and stationed in New Orleans. Four years later he was moved by Shell to Houston. After helping to develop the international consulting engineering contractor that became PMB-Bechtel, he joined the faculty at UC Berkeley. There he worked on the analysis of major failures and disasters involving engineered systems, such as the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the NASA Columbia Shuttle explosion, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the PG&E San Bruno pipeline explosion, and, most recently, the 2017 failures at the Oroville and Anderson dams in California.

Professor Bea spoke with the World Socialist Web Site on Wednesday from his home in California.

Robert Bea: The upset at the Oroville Dam and Anderson Dam in California this past winter is connected to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. In California, we’re coming out of a very dramatic five-year drought. So this year we were blessed with a lot of fresh water, but the systems we had in place to help us benefit from this crucial resource were not prepared.

Worse yet, no one really understood the system as a system. It was a collection of disjointed pieces and parts. Well, that’s just what we’ve seen unfold in Houston, Texas. The storm is…

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