Our New Book on Why the BP Blowout Occurred and What We Can Learn from It

Over the weekend, crews finally succeeded in plugging BP’s blown-out oil well once and for all. Workers pumped mud and cement through the newly secured relief well and finally sealed this disastrous wound in the ocean floor for good. 

As we come to the close of the Macondo well—even as its fallout will continue to haunt the Gulf of Mexico for years to come—we are wise to examine how we got here.

What happened on the Deepwater Horizon to create this catastrophe? What drove its engineers to cut corners and make bad design decisions? And how did our nation arrive at a point where recklessness in pursuit of oil is condoned and rewarded?

I explore these questions in a new book, In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, the Fate of the Gulf, and How to End our Oil Addiction.

I wrote the book, along with my NRDC colleague Bob Deans, because we believe the country has paid a high price for the mistakes that led to this disaster, and we must learn the lessons that have come at such a grievous cost.

The simple fact is most of us have little or no idea what is required to provide the oil we depend upon to power our cars, airplanes, and trucks with cheap and dependable fuel.

But increasingly, our need for oil—and the enormous profits that come from supplying it—has driven energy companies to push the limits of what’s safe and reliable and to take extraordinary and ever-increasing risks, often without an operative Plan B. 

Many oil companies have come to play fast and loose with environmental and public health safeguards. But in the case of the Macondo well, BP seems to have made a number of especially poor decisions that resulted in an epic disaster and the need to plug a relief well five months later.

Instead of choosing the safest—and most common—method of securing the Deepwater Horizon rig to the bottom of the Macondo well, BP decided to save $7 million by going with the cheaper option. Instead of ensuring its pipe was properly placed by using the recommended 21 centralizers, BP decided it didn’t want to hold up operations and would make do with only the 6 centralizers onboard the rig. And instead of performing a standard safety test to make sure the cement collar it used to fill gaps in the well was tight, BP chose to save $128,000 by sending the test crew home before they had done their examination.

The Macondo well blew out eleven hours later.

For too long, we have turned a blind eye to the risks energy companies are taking in order to feed our addiction to oil. But the BP blowout has ripped the blinders off.

It has shined a spotlight on the dark underbelly of what our addiction entails—drilling up to six miles below the water’s surface, cutting corners to pad profits, corrupting government agencies tasked with overseeing the industry.

There are only two rational responses to this state of affairs: reduce the risk and reduce the need for the activity.

In our book, we show how America can make offshore drilling safer by investing in the safeguards we need, the institutions required to enforce those safeguards, and the professionals we can count on to protect our safety, health, and environment.

We also show how America ingenuity can break our addiction to oil and begin moving this country to safer, cleaner, more sustainable sources of power and fuel. Oil is a precious an extraordinarily precious resource. We should be using it as efficiently as we possibly can, not wasting it by burning it in outdated engines and old technologies.

These are some of the lessons we can learn from the brief, torturous life of BP’s Macondo well.