Plunging into Deep Water

January 12, 2011

Although Government Book Talk tries to cover Government publications of all eras, we do like to jump on hot new titles, especially when they cover subjects of broad public interest. They don’t get any hotter than Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling. This report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling was printed in-house here at GPO and released to the public just yesterday.

Given the proverbially slow pace at which Government supposedly moves, I’d say that this Commission got its work done very expeditiously and thoroughly. it’s fair to say that one word sums up many of its key findings – complacency – on the part of the oil industry and government. According to the report, BP, for example, was quite conscious of the need for safe practices for individuals, but not for processes, despite a recent history of major accidents: Grangemouth in Scotland (2000), North Sea (2003), and the deadly Texas City refinery explosion (2005). The Commission also found fault with BP’s contractors, Halliburton and Transocean, and the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service and other Government entities with responsibility for regulation and oversight. (In thumbing through this document, I also realized that, even though I consider myself relatively well informed about current events, I had quite forgotten the Texas City disaster, which cost more lives than the Deepwater Horizon accident.)

I also liked the Commission’s decision to add sidebars that allowed the victims of the oil spill – businesspeople, fishermen, and residents – to speak frankly and sometimes emotionally about the toll it took on their lives and livelihoods. In our culture of 24/7 news and quasi-news, it’s easy to lose track of yesterday’s victims. I think that’s why Deep Water is dedicated to the 11 men who died last April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon.

Deep Water is an exemplary Commission report – timely, clear, and comprehensive. It’s worthy of any citizen’s attention. You can view it here or get your own copy here.

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