Welcome to April 2011 -- how come it feels so much like déjà vu?
It's Friday evening -- must be time for the Gulf Watchers' Block Party.
We'll hit party time before you know it, but first, let's roll back the clock. Eleven and a half months ago an earthquake had put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk on an island, and an industry disaster set off passionate arguments about better energy sources, safer and cleaner and greener.
In April 2010, the Gulf Watchers didn't exist yet.
Last April, I'd bet most of y'all hadn't heard of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Unless Kossacks lived or worked in the oilfields, they'd never heard of flaring gas, of drilling mud or wild wells, about hydrogen sulfide or fishing tools or well control or blowout preventers or hydrates, couldn't identify Mississippi Canyon, much less Block 252, wouldn't have had a clue how the Macondo play might turn out -- well, to be fair, we still don't know that -- or how to run a wildcat operation, let alone a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
Then something went horribly wrong ... well, actually, another something went horribly wrong, under a mile of water in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, in a wellbore belonging to a partnership that included an oil company already known for having more than its share of deadly fires, and accidents.
One of the world's most highly specialized oil drilling rigs, fresh off a triumph in drilling the world's deepest offshore oilwell to date, had moved in to drill in Mississippi Canyon's Block 252. From the start the well gave trouble, until the rig suffered a blowout -- and when the blowout preventer failed catastrophically, the kicking well coughed a massive bubble of natural gas onto the rig floor, where it encountered a spark and exploded. At first the Coast Guard only reported a rig on fire and a rescue operation underway.
That turned out to be just the beginning ... before Kossack eljefebob, Bob Cavnar of The Daily Hurricane, got to be a regular on both Al Jazeera and MSNBC, and Fishgrease wrote the first diary about booming ... before we bookmarked Schlumberger's oilfield glossary or understood the terms LMRP or BOP.
Oil spills aren't anything new. The history of the Exxon-Valdez wreck is a subtext in popular culture, not quite as pervasive as Star Wars but easily as recognizable as The Tonight Show.
Oilwell blowout isn't new, either. Oklahoma Crude spectacularly recreated a well blowing-in for the movies; Spindletop's the picture in the dictionary for Texas' oil industry. Though blowouts don't always catch fire, nearly any oil or gas well can burn -- rIght after Desert Storm we saw news of oilwell fires in Kuwait -- retreating Iraqi troops set 'em ablaze on Saddam's orders -- and Red Adair or Boots & Coots put 'em out.
Oilfield work offers good wages -- and enormous risks, and the morning this Transocean rig exploded, it took a deadly toll:
Eleven crew members died during the April 20 explosion; 115 were rescued.
Jason Anderson, 35, toolpusher, of Midfield, Texas. ...
Dale Burkeen, 37, a crane operator from outside Philadelphia. ...
Donald Clark, 49, assistant driller, of Newellton, La. ...
Stephen Curtis, 39, assistant driller, of Georgetown, La. ...
Gordon Jones, 28, mud engineer, of near Baton Rouge, La. ...
Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, assistant driller, of Jonesville, La. ...
Karl Kleppinger, 38, floorhand, of Natchez, Miss. ...
Dewey Revette, 48, driller, of State Line, Miss. ...
Shane Roshto, 22, roustabout, of Franklin County, Miss. ....
Adam Weise, 24, floorhand, of Yorktown, Texas. ...
Deepwater Horizon's blowout started to look really bad when the fire kept on burning until the crippled drilling rig sank -- taking down with it the straw it had stuck into the Gulf floor in search of oil.
Shades of Ixtoc 1 -- a drilling company lost control of a well in the Bay of Campeche back in 1979. Outfit involved, called SEDCO back then, now known as Transocean, leases drilling rigs to oil companies like BP. Even NPR noticed the similarities.
Oil belching up out of the seafloor fouled birds, killed fish, polluted shorelines, poisoned marine mammals, spit stink and sludge ashore. Months unrolled with that awful image on the television, everywhere we looked. Incomes dwindled quickly, in a region yet hurting from 2005's neglect. New Orleans is an oil port; offshore production fuels our nation, feeds families and keeps businesses from going under, along the Gulf Coast.
After the Macondo disaster, deepwater drilling in the Gulf came to a halt.
Louisiana -- even more than Texas -- depends on offshore oil and gas from Thunder Horse to Atlantis. But the oilfields off the Gulf Coast are in the middle of a fragile environment -- economically and environmentally and, after Katrina and Rita and Ike, emotionally, too.
Tourism from Corpus Christi to western Florida suffered. Fisheries closed. BP's wayward oil got into the water, and onto the wildlife -- the same way the oil spilling out of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska had, with devastating results.
Déjà vu all over again.
News that offshore deep-water drilling can start back up came as glad tidings for many who live and work in and depend on the Gulf Coast's offshore oilfields, notwithstanding the eleven men who'll never come home from that rig.
I first found the Gulf Watchers parsing nomenclature; I speak reasonable oilpatch of a Permian Basin sort, but this awful thing happened offshore -- about as different an environment from West Texas as an oilpatch can get. For me, The Oil Drum and the Daily Hurricane became must-reads. The more I learned, the worse the Deepwater Horizon wreck looked. So I looked for experts. What I found were Kossacks whose skills ran the gamut from the no-nonsense, plain-spoken expertise of Fishgrease and telegenic sensibility of eljefebob to the information-gathering of Whitis and the patient reportage of literally a myriad of ROVers. As BP's undersea monster kept spewing gas and oil, the DKos Gulf Watchers kept bringing the truth to the surface.
Day by day Tomtech, hester, peraspera, and many more took time to parse the daily briefings by the USCG Admiral Thad Allen, putting off his retirement to serve as Incident Commander. Not unlike previous disasters, the government's emergency response needed improving (not to mention the government's general approach). As had happened with the hurricanes five years earlier and the California wildfires, a mothership appeared, a FAQ arose, and diary after diary, amazing amounts of work, the good solid resourceful work that ought to be coming to every American by way of the news, gushed onto DKos' front page.
As usual, the government put out briefings; as it had before BP made promises and statements -- ranging from stunningly incompetent to laughably overoptimistic. States and Congress started looking into what was going on. Tony Hayward gained a fame he quickly came to loathe; Kent Wells followed in his footsteps.
But the real news, the hardcore detailed comprehensive examination of the effects on the Gulf's wildlife and water, on jobs, residents' morale, the risks to cleanup workers, what a torturous process damage claims turned into, the management style and culture of what used to be British Petroleum -- that all came from DKos' Gulf Watchers.
The Gulf Watchers turned from an online source into a force that shaped how newscasters like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann covered the Deepwater Horizon aftermath, too.
We're still finding out things Admiral Thad Allen never told us, and most of them are turning out not to be salutary effects of the l and BP's "remediation." Oh, and BP's lost a laptop with all sorts of personal information on the claimants hurt in this mess.
Rachel Maddow's talking about the Deepwater Horizon wreck regularly, and Bob Cavnar's on her show pretty often again. The government's own report says that blowout preventers, as they're currently designed, can't actually control wild wells even if there's nothing wrong with the BOP (not the case in the Deepwater Horizon wreck) and it's used properly (some kicks are big enough to prevent the BOP from working).
Keith Olbermann's coming back to prime time nightly news -- this time, on Current.
Let's get the band back together!