Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster

Overview

A real-life thriller in the tradition of The Perfect Storm

In the spring of 2010 the world watched for weeks as more than 200 million gallons of crude oil billowed from a hole three miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Warnings of various and imminent environmental consequences dominated the news. Deepwater drilling—largely ignored or misunderstood to that point—exploded in the American consciousness in the worst way possible.

Fire on the ...

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Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster

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Overview

A real-life thriller in the tradition of The Perfect Storm

In the spring of 2010 the world watched for weeks as more than 200 million gallons of crude oil billowed from a hole three miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Warnings of various and imminent environmental consequences dominated the news. Deepwater drilling—largely ignored or misunderstood to that point—exploded in the American consciousness in the worst way possible.

Fire on the Horizon, written by veteran oil rig captain John Konrad and longtime Washington Post journalist Tom Shroder, recounts in vivid detail the life of the rig itself, from its construction in South Korea in the year 2000 to its improbable journey around the world to its disastrous end, and reveals the day-to-day lives, struggles, and ambitions of those who called it home.

From the little-known maritime colleges to Transocean's training schools and Houston headquarters to the small towns all over the country where the wives and children of the Horizon's crew lived in the ever-present shadow of risk hundreds of miles away, Fire on the Horizon offers full-scale portraits of the Horizon's captain, its chief mate, its chief mechanic, and others.

What emerges is a white-knuckled chronicle of engineering hubris at odds with the earth itself, an unusual manifestation of corporate greed and the unforgettable heroism of the men and women on board the Deepwater Horizon. Here is the harrowing minute-by-minute account of the fateful day, April 20, 2010, when the half-billion-dollar rig blew up, taking with it the lives of eleven people and leaving behind a swath of unprecedented natural destruction.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"NO SHORTAGE OF BOOKS ON OIL SPILL" headlined the New York Times last summer. Since then, many of those books have come and gone, but central facets of the BP disaster story remained unrevealed. That ends with this book. Veteran oil-rig captain John Konrad was a longtime employee of the owner of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon and knew many of its crewmembers as friends. In Fire on the Horizon, award-winning Washington Post editor and writer Tom Shroder draws on Konrad's expertise and sources to reconstruct one of the most far-spreading catastrophes in American history from its origins in neglect and greed to an explosion that shocked the world. Front-page worthy revelations.

Publishers Weekly
Konrad, a veteran oil rig captain, teams up with Shroder (Old Souls) to offer a thorough but plodding look at the "little-understood culture of offshore drilling." Starting in Korea with the construction of the Deepwater Horizon in 2000, the authors leapfrog through time and around the globe to explain the history and mechanics of oil rig life and offshore drilling. Profiles of the (mostly) men who work the rigs shed light on the class tensions aboard as well as on the personalities, educations, and customs of this special set of modern-day mariners. Konrad had close friends on the Horizon and the final chapters are an affecting blend of their firsthand accounts of the explosion. The authors suggest that oil rig blowouts are inevitable: while Transocean Ltd., owner of the Horizon and the world's biggest offshore drilling company, does what it can to prevent common safety hazards, the high cost of delays in the offshore oil business (use of the Horizon was costing BP a minute) encourages management to postpone the maintenance of essential equipment. While informative and undeniably important, the book is so bogged down by clunky prose and jargon that it's difficult to mine its message. (Apr.) C reating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach Martha Nussbaum Harvard Univ., .95 (228p) ISBN 978-0-674-05054-9 Offering a forceful and persuasive account of the failings of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an accurate reflection of human welfare, the distinguished philosopher Nussbaum (Frontiers of Justice) provides a framework for a new account of global development based on the concept of capabilities. Taking her cue from the work of economist Amartya Sen, the author argues that human development is best measured in terms of specific opportunities available to individuals rather than economic growth figures. Nussbaum strives to provide a comprehensive practical and theoretical framework by linking capabilities with education, human rights, justice, and democracy. Placing this approach within a broad lineage that reaches back to Aristotle, Nussbaum makes a strong case both for its philosophical pedigree and its ability to deal with such contemporary issues as gender equality and animal rights. Though the complexity of questions raised would seem to demand a more detailed account of how the capabilities approach might be implemented, as an introduction to the issues and as an indictment of current development indexes, this small book provides a strong foundation for beginning to think about how economic growth and individual flourishing might coincide. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This is a real insider's view of the BP spill. A veteran oil-rig captain, Konrad was a longtime employee of TransOcean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon, and knew many of the crewmembers personally. His one-on-ones with the crew here meld with former Washington Post editor/writer Shroder's reporting. The argument: there's a particular culture on an offshore oil rig that made it inevitable.
Kirkus Reviews

With the assistance of former Washington Post contributor Shroder (Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence For Past Lives, 1999), veteran oil-rig captain Konrad guides readers through the culture and daily life of offshore drilling on theDeepwater Horizon.

Konrad worked seven years for Transocean, the owner of Horizon,which exploded into flames in April 2010, taking 11 lives and leaking more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He comes at the story from the perspective of the people who do the work to get the oil. In so doing, he provides a complementary angle on the event to Carl Safina'sA Sea in Flames (2011), with its emphasis on corporate malfeasance and the blowout's social and environmental impacts. First, Konrad introduces the Horizon,which, even in its outdated state, was an awesome construction, a floating drilling platform the size of an office park, with computer-controlled dynamic positioning that could keep it over a 20-square-foot target a mile under the surface of the ocean. Konrad writes of the rig with easy familiarity, while comfortably populating it with its maritime and drilling crews and warmly conveying the camaraderie that suffused the platform. Though the author comes from a maritime background, he turns the drilling process into a fine choreography, offering an effective critique of the corporate edicts that jeopardized the safety of the rig's people and the integrity of the exploratory well. The corporate atmosphere was complex, however—one moment finds Transocean working hard to avoid common-hazard injuries, then cutting back on crew just when the aging rig needed them most for preventative maintenance. Konrad's gavel comes down on corporate irresponsibility, and the consequences of the poor, indeed criminal, decision making is palpably, gruesomely expressed as the author screws down his focus to the last few days of the Horizon,concentrating on a few individuals in an absorbing re-creation of the disaster's brewing, mayhem and horror.

A lucid investigation into the fatally risky business that caused the blowout, which, by putting human faces on many players, amplifies the ache.

Gary Krist
While the authors do have some pungent criticisms of both BP and Transocean…assigning blame for the massive spill is not the book's top priority. Instead, it focuses on the lives and culture of the individual men and (far fewer) women who sail the giant rigs and tackle the mind-bogglingly complex feat of digging the deepwater wells. The book covers a remarkable amount of territory with brisk efficiency. Konrad and Shroder offer lucid thumbnail descriptions of everything from the history of offshore drilling to the biological and geological forces that create deepwater oil deposits. Their depiction of everyday life aboard rigs like the Horizon…is especially fascinating.
—The Washington Post
Daily Beast
"Harrowing...the best account yet of what went wrong."
Sebastian Junger
“One of the best disaster books I’ve ever read...I tore through it like a novel but with the quesy knowledge that the whole damn thing is true. A phenomenal feat of journalism.”
—Daily Beast
“Harrowing...the best account yet of what went wrong.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062063007
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Shroder was an editor and writer at The Washington Post from 1999 to 2009. Under his stewardship, The Washington Post Magazine won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in both 2008 and 2010. He is the author of the nonfiction bestseller Old Souls. He lives in Vienna, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note: A Perilous Crossing ix

Prologue: The End 1

1 The Beginning 3

2 Oil and Water 19

3 Cold Comfort 30

4 Sea Legs 38

5 King Neptune 58

6 Macondo 72

7 X Marks the Spot 92

8 The Flood 120

9 A Captain's Colors 132

10 Latching Up 145

11 Kicks 166

12 A Long String 195

13 Uneasy Partings 214

14 Positive Test 220

15 Negative Test 228

16 Sailor Take Warning 246

17 "Something Ain't Right" 260

18 Mayday 275

19 Abandon Ship 292

20 Mustering 309

21 Going Home 317

Epilogue 333

Acknowledgments 355

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2011

    Excellent book

    I truly enjoyed this book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2011

    Perfect Storm meets the BP rig explosion

    High paced and informative, the best book I've read in years!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

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    A harrowing true story for fans of The Perfect Storm

    What often seemed forgotten were the eleven men who lost their lives during the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon. In "Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster", authors John Konrad and Tom Shroder make sure their stories, as well as the stories of the survivors, are told. Konrad, an oil rig captain, worked for Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, and knew many of the people who worked on Horizon. His blog, gCaptaindotcom, was an immediate source of information on the blast, as people working on a supply ship near the Horizon who witnessed the explosion sent photos and updates to his blog. Konrad and Shroder, a former editor and writer at the Washington Post, teamed up to tell this incredible story, which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Sebastian Junger's "The Perfect Storm". (Junger even contributes a blurb for the book.) While both books put the reader right in the middle of the disasters, "Fire on the Horizon" has the advantage of the first-hand stories of the survivors. The section of the book that deals with the actual explosion is so harrowing, your heart will pound and your pulse will race as you read the minute-by-minute account from the people who survived it. The writing is so intense, I could almost feel the unbearable heat and the confusion of the people on that rig as they raced to save themselves and their coworkers from this disaster. Dave Young is one of the most interesting men on the rig. He graduated from the oldest maritime college in the country, SUNY Maritime College. He is "short and tough, supremely self-confident, (and) perfectly represented the scrappy, resourceful, unruly spirit of his college, little known even in its own southeastern Bronx neighborhood." Young was the chief mate on the ship, and among his responsibilities was to direct the emergency response and firefighting. He had to convince the captain it was time to abandon ship when all attempts to fight the fire were futile. He and a few others narrowly escaped on a life raft that was caught tethered to the rig, and their account of nearly being overcome by heat and fire is frightening. The authors balance the technical aspects of oil rig drilling with the humanity of the people who work on them. They begin the book with the launching of the Deepwater Horizon from the place where it was built. We meet the crew in charge of sailing it from Korea in 2001, around the southern tip of Africa, a fifteen thousand mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico, before it even can begin to do the job for which it was designed. The technical aspects of oil drilling are clearly explained, and there are excellent photos and drawings of the blowout preventer that failed and caused the explosion. The Deepwater Horizon was almost ten years old at the time of the accident, and the age of the rig contributed to accident, as did cuts in the maintenance and human resource budgets from BP and Transocean. "Fire on the Horizon" is fascinating, explaining to the reader in understandable terms how this disaster happened, and bringing to life the people who worked on the rig. It successfully combines the technical and human aspects of the story, and the minute-by-minute retelling of the disaster itself, from the first-hand account of survivors, is as harrowing a story as you'll ever read.

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