April 07, 2011
showed it to the world, live: a horrific plume of oil, flowing freely from the
bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
nearly a year since the Deepwater Horizon sank and the crude began to
spew. Most Americans have moved on. Certainly the media have -- revolution in
the Middle East and nuclear catastrophe in Japan offer sexier imagery than a
capped well thousands of feet underwater.
Still, 11 men
died when the rig exploded. Livelihoods were threatened along the Gulf Coast
-- by the resulting environmental damage, as well as the Obama administration’s
baseless moratorium on deepwater drilling. BP’s stockholders, many of them
retirees, took a beating. The disaster will influence misguided energy-policy
decisions for decades to come.
Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher isn’t the first book to document the
tragedy, but for those who remain interested, reporter Joel Achenbach provides
a thorough account.
scribe with The Washington Post, Achenbach’s recitation of times,
places, and people is adept. He was embedded in the war to plug the Macondo
well, and his conversations and emails with the story’s principals help make
some sense of an enormously complicated saga -- the accident, the response, the
litigation -- that is not yet settled. Particularly useful are the
now-forgotten claims professional alarmists issued at the mishap’s inception.
Peak-oil nutcase Matt Simmons, for example, wouldn’t live to see his ludicrous
predictions (states along the Gulf would have to be evacuated, the crude would
float all the way to Ireland,
“BP’s history”) thoroughly refuted.
But beyond the
basics, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea disappoints.
doesn’t have the insight or the gumption to diverge from a single
Beltway-approved bromide. Barack Obama’s “aloof and professorial” nature isn’t
welcome “in the age of right-wing talk radio and the Tea Party movement.”
(After all, red-state troglodytes can’t grasp that the president is “a creature
of the meritocracy.”) America
has “an addiction to oil,” and “suburban sprawl … has consumed once pastoral
landscapes.” Even Achenbach’s vocabulary -- “optics,” “granularity,”
“narrative” -- is rife with words de rigueur for mainstream mediaites.
surprisingly, a reporter imbued with establishment groupthink isn’t a good
candidate to explore Big Questions about the nation’s energy consumption, the
proper relationship between industry and government regulators, or how
technology shapes society.
schoolboy crush on Steven Chu, the physicist who heads the U.S. Department of
Energy, is embarrassing. Indeed, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea’s
infatuation with the scientists Chu enlisted to monitor the well-sealing
operation -- happily, the U.S. Coast Guard had the final say over BP’s response
-- is inexplicable. Dozens of references are made to the brilliance of Chu’s team, but Achenbach does not supply examples of
significant contributions. Engineers who plugged the hole in July, and rig
workers who drilled two relief wells, deserve the credit for stopping the
calamity. (As the presidential commission tasked with investigating the blowout
wrote, federal scientists had “little background in deep-sea petroleum
puffery is objectionable enough, but the author’s greatest offense is an error
of omission. U.S. Rep Ed Markey (D-MA), who an appreciative Achenbach praises
as having “a gift for the sound bite,” supported the Obama administration’s
decision to end joint federal-BP press conferences. “I think that BP has not
demonstrated a level of competence or trustworthiness that merits having the U.S.
government standing next to it,” the congressman said.
talking about a government that has brought the nation to the point of
insolvency. A government that’s debased the currency to an appalling degree. A
government that fosters slothfulness and illegitimacy through its massive
welfare infrastructure. A government that sends the cost of living soaring
through high taxes, excessive regulations, corporate welfare, and
protectionism. A government that wanders the planet, looking for people to
bomb, but can’t grasp why foreigners hate it.
is incompetent and untrustworthy? Achenbach fails to note the irony.
A Hole at
the Bottom of the Sea
is the predictable product of a mainstream-media type sent to cover a disaster
with broad environmental and economic implications: rich in technical detail
and personal anecdotes, hopelessly conventional in perspective.
focuses on facts, Achenbach’s tale of the men -- and yes, it was almost
exclusively men -- who risked their lives to stop the spill is compelling. When
it wanders into Baby Boomer navel-gazing about energy and technology, you’ll
read nothing you haven’t endured many times before.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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