So, the BP oil spill can be basically seen as a giant design problem.
We have countless engineers figuring out how to get materials and machinery down to the bottom of the ocean floor, but obviously not enough figuring out how to actually critically observe what we are doing at these depths, not to mention how to shut things off when there are problems.
Any sane, long lasting design solutions have to look not only at the problem which they are solving, but also the other problems they have the potential to create. As shown by the BP disaster, this doesn’t always happen.
If we design a door hinge, it is not enough that it simply opens a door — it must also allow the door to close. The same goes with a door’s lock and handle. You must be able to release the latch to open the door, and easily re-latch it when closing. Oil pipes, lines, and valves should be no different. The processes for moving an oil rig have to follow this rule too.
The problem we are getting into now in modern society is that some of these systems, processes, and actions we undertake are now so complex it is impossible for any one person (or even group) to really know what is happening, what other issues might be created, and how to figure out all the possible design permutations that may need to be addressed.
Afterthought: In one respect it is easy to get oil out of the ground — most of the time a new well just spurts the oil out once a hole is made. This is exactly the problem in the Gulf right now, we drilled a hole, shoved a pipe in, and let it spurt out … we just didn’t close it off correctly once we were done. It is like shoving a straw into a juice box while you’re squeezing it and then being surprised that juice squirts out all over you.