One Year Later: Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Today, April 20, marks the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the last year, we’ve seen hundreds of headlines depicting the disaster and BP’s recovery efforts to clean the oil. But there’s one article I want to highlight which strongly resonated with me since I first read it. It is “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” published in New York Times Magazine the day after Christmas, 2010. I didn’t highlight the article in my blog as I was traveling at the time, but it’s one of the most riveting pieces I read the entire year. The 2011 Pulitzer Prices were recently announced, and if I had any say in it, I think David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul should have won the prize for investigative reporting.

On paper, experts and investigators agree, the Deepwater Horizon should have weathered [a] blowout.

This is the story of how and why it didn’t.

It is based on interviews with 21 Horizon crew members and on sworn testimony and written statements from nearly all of the other 94 people who escaped the rig. Their accounts, along with thousands of documents obtained by The New York Times describing the rig’s maintenance and operations, make it possible to finally piece together the Horizon’s last hours.

What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.

At critical moments that night, members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response.

The result, the interviews and records show, was paralysis. For nine long minutes, as the drilling crew battled the blowout and gas alarms eventually sounded on the bridge, no warning was given to the rest of the crew. For many, the first hint of crisis came in the form of a blast wave.

I hope you read it. This is truly a must-read piece, and I think it was (significantly) overlooked when it was published right after Christmas late last year.