The Deepwater Horizon tragedy wasn’t an accident after all, but the logical result of a long pattern of incompetence and corruption.
So charges ProPublica environmental reporter Lustgarten (China's Great Train: Beijing's Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, 2008), who’s been on the case since long before the deep-sea rig blew up off the coast of Louisiana. Readers may remember that BP, the company responsible for the rig—though other companies, including Halliburton, had a role, too—protested that it had a disaster plan in place for just such occasions; they may also recall that the plan “called for the protection of walruses,” which do not live in the Gulf of Mexico. That slip is symptomatic, by Lustgarten’s account: BP staffers cut and pasted bits and pieces of the plan “from a website describing conditions halfway around the world.” Walruses do, of course, live in the chilly waters of the Arctic, and much of the author’s account is set there, following BP’s adventures and misadventures on the North Slope. Lustgarten then reverses to the 1970s, when British Petroleum was on the hunt for safe—read, English-speaking—territory in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo, “places with the lowest possible additional risk”—i.e., without the danger of terrorism, the whims of sheiks or commissars and other political externalities. All the riches of Alaska (and, later, the Gulf of Mexico) were paltry compared to the wealth of Saudi Arabia, and to get at them required risk and technological innovation. BP was plenty strong on the risk part, so much so that the EPA had staffers doing nothing but tracking the violations, and that plenty of whistle-blowers were sounding alarms about shortcuts, leaks and accidents waiting to happen from within the company itself. Lustgarten writes with immediacy and urgency, peppering his pages with plenty of human-interest anecdotes and characters on both sides of the story. In the end, though, the story has a depressing inevitability. Readers may justifiably conclude that the Deepwater Horizon tragedy happened mostly because a bad company with an arrogant management was at the wheel.
Solid investigative reporting and a worthy addition to earlier books on the immediate effects of the disaster.