Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Somber Anniversary: The Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Gulf Oil Spill

One year ago, at about 10:00 pm CDT, The Deepwater Horizon suffered a blowout as natural gas erupted through a riser and drill pipe extending one mile to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, just about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The rig exploded, burned and two days later, she sank. The tragic event was the result of a series of bad decisions beginning months earlier and leading right up to the fateful moment. Eleven men were lost in the tragedy, and 17 others were seriously injured. What followed the loss of those men aboard one of the world’s most advanced drill rigs was an environmental disaster like none other the country has ever seen.

An estimated 200 million gallons of oil spewed from the damaged well until it was finally capped on September 19. The world saw images of oiled birds, fouled marshes and stained beaches. But it also witnessed one of the most colossal failures of federal disaster response in the history of federal disaster responses.

image As this blog’s Deepwater Horizon Incident Timeline shows, the series of bad decisions that cascaded into the explosion and fire was followed by an equally bad series of decisions by the federal government, until the Grown Up—Retired USCG Admiral Thad Allen—took over from the politicos.

The President’s “WTF Moment” didn’t come until nine days after the rig sank and a full week after news that the well was indeed spewing oil into the Gulf. Twelve days after the incident began, he suddenly changed an earlier decision not to visit the area and hauled ass South to give a speech. He returned a month later, where this photo was taken. It’s come to symbolize a cluelessly detached “executive” facing his first real crisis, and going off by himself to pick up a few tarballs.

Responsibility for the tragic explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon lies squarely on the shoulders of senior leadership of the companies drilling the well. They cut corners “down the hole,” something that chills the blood of every experienced oil man. But responsibility for failure to contain the spill and prevent environment disaster lies squarely in the Oval Office. The response was driven by politics and politics alone, and it wasn’t until the burly, gruff Admiral Allen told the White House to go screw themselves; that he was in charge and they could leave a message at the tone.

And if anyone thinks that the pain of the adminstration’s clusterfark was going to be made better by a $20 billion slush fund, administered by a White House appointed czar and funded by a contrite BP, Google “Gulf Coast Claims Facility.”

Go explore the Timeline. Most of the entries are linked to news stories and other online resources. It remains the single-most visited page at IBCR and has been used by journalists, researchers and interested members of the public world-wide.

And tonight, around 10:00 pm, say a small prayer for the men who lost their lives, their families, and the families and businesses along the Gulf Coast who are still struggling to put their lives back together again. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got miles ahead of us.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.