Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

by Abrahm Lustgarten
     
 

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It was Big Oil's nightmare moment, and the dominoes began falling years before the well was drilled.
Two decades ago, British Petroleum, a venerable and storied corporation, was running out of oil reserves. Along came a new CEO of vision and vast ambition, John Browne, who pulled off one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history.
BP bought one company

Overview

It was Big Oil's nightmare moment, and the dominoes began falling years before the well was drilled.
Two decades ago, British Petroleum, a venerable and storied corporation, was running out of oil reserves. Along came a new CEO of vision and vast ambition, John Browne, who pulled off one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history.
BP bought one company after another and then relentlessly fired employees and cut costs. It skipped safety procedures, pumped toxic chemicals back into the ground, and let equipment languish, even while Browne claimed a new era of environmentally sustainable business as his own. For a while the strategy worked, making BP one of the most profitable corporations in the world. Then it all began to unravel, in felony convictions for environmental crimes and in one deadly accident after another. Employees and regulators warned that BP’s problems, unfixed, were spinning out of control, that another disaster—bigger and deadlier—was inevitable. Nobody was listening.
Having reported on business and the energy industry for nearly a decade, Abrahm Lustgarten uses interviews with key executives, former government investigators, and whistle-blowers along with his exclusive access to BP’s internal documents and emails to weave a spellbinding investigative narrative of hubris and greed well before the gulf oil spill.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The April 2010 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico was a catastrophic accident, but no anomaly, according to ProPublica reporter Lustgarten’s investigation. Indeed, it was all too predictable given the track record and management culture of Deepwater’s operator, British Petroleum. Echoing the government’s own finding, but belying the Obama administration’s about-face with respect to Gulf drilling and the expansion of drilling in Alaska, Lustgarten’s account makes clear that the disaster emerged from a business culture driven by Wall Street and a younger management class’s obsession with shareholder profits. The deadly 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City Refinery and a 2006 Alaska spill arise amid a policy of drastic budget cutting under the leadership of John Browne and Tony Hayward. Lustgarten can be inconsistent in casting BP as a bad apple in the oil industry, while invoking a corporate ethos that makes self-policing impossible, but this often breathless account is a wakeup call, and affords a timely consideration of the nature of international business and its relationship to government. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Deepwater Horizon was not an isolated event, and to prove his case Lustgarten (reporter, ProPublica) here offers a fast-paced account of British Petroleum's rise to corporate infamy, detailing a 20-year history of mergers, cost cutting, and environmental disasters. Under the leadership of CEO John Browne and, later, Tony Hayward, BP expanded its holdings and demanded higher profits. At the time, BP operated the majority of Alaska's oil fields, ran the Trans Alaska Pipeline, and held numerous leases for offshore drilling. The race for financial gain was accomplished by cutting costs in areas including necessary safety equipment and updating aging equipment as well as by hiring cheaper contractors to perform oil-extraction tasks that BP employees would normally handle. This is a story of massive pipeline breaks and leaks that damaged the fragile Arctic ecosystem, a colossal explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, and the infamous Deepwater Horizon blowout. VERDICT Lustgarten uses interviews with former BP employees, whistle-blowers, and government officials as well as numerous documents to chronicle this frightening tale of corporate greed. This book will be fascinating reading for environmentalists, historians, and anyone interested in today's business-oriented, profit-driven society. [See Prepub Alert, 9/19/11.]—Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mt. Carmel
Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393081626
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
03/26/2012
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
1,324,572
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Abrahm Lustgraten is a reporter for ProPublica. He covers energy and environmental topics, including natural gas, renewable energy, water resources, and energy policy. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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