Endnotes for A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea


My narrative of the spill and its aftermath relies in part on 19,218 pages of previously undisclosed government emails, including correspondence with BP, that I obtained during my research. These emails offered a glimpse into what it was like, day to day, moment to moment, as government officials and engineers and their counterparts at BP struggled to cope with the crisis. Eventually many of these emails are likely to be made public and archived in a manner easily accessed by researchers. In the meantime, I’m happy to share any specific email cited here—along with other primary source material—with researchers wanting to probe further. I can be contacted by email at joel@joelachenbach.com, or at my Washington Post address, achenbachj@washpost.com.

This account also relies on internal BP documents that were essential to the media coverage of the spill and critical to the official reports about what went wrong. For the most part, these documents aren’t public, but neither are they exactly obscure: Lots of people, from journalists to government officials to plaintiff’s lawyers, have them. I obtained most of the critical documents from sources while covering the Marine Board of Investigation hearings. In these endnotes I refer to them as “MBI exhibits.” Many are also cited in the presidential Oil Spill Commission report. The documents include statements from survivors of the blowout, notes by BP investigators probing the accident as part of the company’s internal investigation, investigative documents prepared by the Marine Board, Macondo well diagrams, Halliburton cementing reports, and internal BP emails. Again, if anyone would like to see the original copy of one of these documents, please email me. I’ve also been known to answer the phone at my desk at the Washington Post.

I interviewed many principal figures in the disaster response, including Thad Allen, Steve Chu, Tom Hunter, Marcia McNutt, Bob Dudley, Richard Lynch, and Kent Wells—multiple times. In the text of the book it is usually obvious where I’m quoting someone directly, and I’ve not labored to provide an endnote where there’s no ambiguity about the source. In some cases it may be less clear that I’m using a personal interview, and I’ve provided an endnote to that effect.

The definitive account of what happened with the Deepwater Horizon has been compiled by the presidential Oil Spill Commission, chaired by Bob Graham and William Reilly. The main commission report is commercially available in book form, titled Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling; in these endnotes I will refer to it as Deep Water. It is not only comprehensive, but provides a very readable, compelling narrative.

The commission, in the process of preparing its ultimate report, produced an excellent series of “working papers,” plus an invaluable “chief counsel’s” report that provided fresh material that I have used in Chapter 12. Several important events in my book were first unearthed by the commission. I learned of USGS scientist Paul Hsieh’s role in the response through a commission working paper entitled “Stopping the Spill: The Five-Month Effort to Kill the Macondo Well.” My account of President Obama’s actions regarding the “sand berms” proposed by Louisiana officials is also based on a commission working paper, “The Story of the Louisiana Berms Project.” Both papers and the commission’s final report can be found at the commission’s web site: www.oilspillcommission.gov.

The National Academy of Engineering issued a report on the disaster, which can be found at www.nae.edu. BP’s “Bly report,” though not a disinterested document, provides abundant technical dataand well diagrams, in addition to the company’s interpretation of theblowout. It can be found at www.bp.com.

In addition to the work of my colleagues at the Washington Post (seethe Acknowledgments), journalists with many other news organizationsprovided outstanding coverage of the disaster and aftermath; I benefited in particular from the work of the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. During the oil spill I regularly checked the technicaldiscussions at the online forum The Oil Drum (www.theoildrum.com/).

Although we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the oil spill, readers may find it enjoyable to join the ongoing conversation in the comments section (the “boodle,” as we call it) of my Washington Post blog, Achenblog,at www.washingtonpost.com/achenblog.




New Introduction to Paperback


p. xv

This will be a century: For a longer discussion of this theme, see Joel Achenbach, “The Century of Disasters,” Slate, May 2011, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2011/05/the_century_of_disasters_2.html.
p. xvi

Citizens across the country: Joel Achenbach, “The Next Big One,” National Geographic, April 2006, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/04/earthquake/achenbach-text.


p. xvi

The plant was protected: For measurements and a precise chronology of the disaster, see Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, November 2011, 3.


p. xviii

“rambunctious garden”: Emma Marris, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).




p. 1

“Plug the damn hole!”: Karen Tumulty and Steven Mufson, “Administration Torn on Getting Tough With BP,”Washington Post, May 25, 2010.


Admiral Thad Allen: Thad Allen, interview by Candy Crowley, State of the Union, CNN, May 2, 2010, http://articles.cnn.com/2010-05-02/politics/oil.spill.government_1_rig-spill-gulf-of-mexico-oil?_s=PM:POLITICS.

p. 2

“At that time, we replaced”: Mark Hay, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 25, 2010, 188.


p. 3

“You’ve got some gas sensors”: Jimmy W. Harrell, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 27, 2010, 93.


Chapter One


p. 7

On April 20, 2010: Daun Winslow, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 23, 2010, 437–528 and August 24, 2010, 7–237.


p. 8

 BP had leased: BP, Deepwater HorizonAccident Investigation Report (September 8, 2010), 17.


Just recently, it had set a world record: Note that the 35,000-foot well was not entirely vertical. Drillers measure the length of casing run into a well to determine “total depth.”


According to Fortune magazine: “Global 500,” Fortune, July 26, 2010, http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2010/.


In just the first three months: “First quarter 2010 results,” BP, http://www.bp.com/extendedgenericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7061409. See also Associated Press, “British Petroleum Profit Doubles to $6.1B,” CBSNews.com, April 27, 2010, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/27/business/main6436070.shtml.


In 2009, even with oil prices: BP, Annual Report and Accounts 2009,http://www.bp.com/assets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/set_branch/STAGING/common_assets/downloads/pdf/BP_Annual_Report_and_Accounts_2009.pdf, 16.


p. 9

The farmland and pastures below: The description of the view from the helicopter is based on my identical trip to the disaster site, leaving from the same heliport, two months later.


p. 11

There are salt sheets: Richard Sears, a retired engineer who served as an investigator for the presidential oil spill commission, offered me in a personal email communication a description of how the salt helps and hinders the oil industry: “As for mobile salt, one of the reasons that the deepwater Gulf is so interesting and complex is that during Jurassic times a very thick layer of salt was deposited in what would become the Gulf of Mexico. This is when the Americas were splitting from Europe and Africa, and shallow inland seas would open and flood, then be closed off and evaporate, leaving the salt behind. Like any sediments, the salt was then buried as the continental margin subsided, and in all, thousands of feet of salt were deposited, which is now a thick, tabular salt layer tens of thousands of feet below the surface (depth depends on where in the Gulf you are). The salt, however, is lighter than the sediments on top of it, and under high pressure and temperature, it becomes mobile, as it is bouyant and wants to rise. But it can’t just flow up everywhere, so it finds weak points and rises into very tall salt domes (also called salt diapirs), which can come all the way to the surface, or can come partially up and then spread out horizontally. All over the Gulf Coast, onshore and offshore, there are salt domes at or near the surface, and they form topographic highs on land and the sea bed. If you look at them in cross section, they look like a lava lamp (that’s a test to see how old you are). The result of the salt movement is the formation of very complex structures in the subsurface that have many ideal characteristics for accumulating and trapping oil and gas. But all this subsurface movement can greatly complicate the pressures that are encountered, and drilling through and around the salt is a big challenge.”


p. 12

Historians throw around different dates: For a history of the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas industry, see Tyler Priest, “Extraction Not Creation: The History of Offshore Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico,”Enterprise & Society 8, no. 2(2007): 227–67. Priest also contributed historical background to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Deep Water (2011).


p. 14

But there was something: The chopper sat down at 2:30 p.m.: Winslow, testimony, August 23, 2010, 442.


p. 15

Macondo was a hybrid well: BP, Deepwater Horizon Accident Investigation Report,16.


The Horizon would soon go on: William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling, Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 185. See also Priest, “Extraction Not Creation.”


In a drilling permit request: U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, “Application for Permit to Drill a New Well,” http://calmap.gisc.berkeley.edu/dwh_doc_link/Permitting_ReportsGuidelines/DH_Permit_Request_to_MMS.pdf.


“Mother nature just doesn’t want”:Natalie Roshto, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 22, 2010, 15.


p. 16

“It’s like blowing up a red balloon”: Ibid.


A rig named the Marianas: BP, Deepwater HorizonAccident Investigation Report, 17.


p. 17

On March 8, 2010: Ben Casselman and Russell Gold, “BP Decisions Set Stage for Disaster,” Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704026204575266560930780190.html.


The mud is not really mud: Byron Davenport, Handbook of Drilling Practices (Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1984), 89–94.


The mud has seven distinct functions: Ibid., 651.


p. 19

“This has been a nightmare well”: Brian Morel, e-mail message to Richard Miller and Mark Hafle, April 14, 2010, 13:31. MBI exhibit obtained by author.


p. 20

Jimmy Harrell, the offshore installation manager: Jimmy W. Harrell, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 27, 2010, 8.


p. 21

Also along for the tour: Capt. Curt Kuchta, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 27, 2010, 166–71.


They visited the storage lockers: Pat O’Bryan, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 26, 2010, 362.


p. 22

Daun Winslow sensed: Winslow, testimony, August 23, 2010, 443.


“Let’s go, and let them guys do their work”: Winslow, testimony, August 24, 2010, 200.


They closed in the drill pipe: National Commission, Deep Water, 107.


p. 24

The talking points included: MBI exhibits obtained by author.


David Sims, BP: David Sims, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 26, 2010, http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/295196-103.


p. 25

“We loaded into the simulator”: Winslow, testimony, August 23, 2010, 446.


By twenty minutes after nine: Miles Ezell, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 28, 2010, 282.


Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician:Michael Williams, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 23, 2010, 9–12.


p. 26

Daun Winslow by this point:Winslow, testimony, August 23, 2010, 446–47.



What is this?“: Alwin Landry, interview by David A. Fahrenthold, May 2010; notes supplied to the author. See also Eli Saslow and David A. Fahrenthold, “Oil Riggers on Ship That Exploded in Gulf of Mexico Describe Fateful Night,” Washington Post, May 7, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/06/AR2010050606409.html.


Chapter Two


p. 30

“We have a situation”: Miles Ezell, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 28, 2010, 282–87.


p. 31

“The fire at this point”: Michael Williams, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 23, 2010, 23.


“Hey, where you going?”: Daun Winslow, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 23, 2010, 449–50.


Doug Brown, Chief Mechanic: Douglas Brown, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 26, 2010, 94–95.


p. 33

“I hollered to Chris”: Stephen Bertone, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 19, 2010, 39–46.


Pat O’Bryan, the BP executive: Pat O’Bryan, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 26, 2010, 368.


p. 34

Winslow was last:Winslow, testimony, August 23, 2010, 453–55.


“I went to the far side”: Bertone, testimony, 46.


The captain stayed behind: Yancy Keplinger, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, October 5, 2010, 153–56.


p. 35

Stephen Bertone, down below:Bertone, testimony, 47.


Mike Williams was still on the rig: Williams, testimony, 24–28.


“I’ve got oil”: Ibid., 25–26.


p. 36

Keplinger swam to it too: Bertone, testimony, 47–49.


p. 37

Harrell eventually talked: Paul Johnson, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 23, 2010, 279–80.


Chapter Three


p. 40

The BOP is not some trifling piece: BP, Deepwater HorizonAccident Investigation Report (September 8, 2010), 223–34.


p. 42

At seven in the morning: Steve Gordon, interview by author.


p. 45

Absurd, thought Doug Martin: Doug Martin, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, October 4, 2010, 129–34.


At the scene, Winslow ordered: Daun Winslow, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 24, 2010, 53–54.


p. 46

Whales have been known: This was told to me by ROV technicians on the Ocean Intervention III, one of the vessels that responded to the oil spill.


A jumbo eel, in fact: “Deepwater Disaster—The Untold Story,” Horizon, BBC, January 29, 2011,http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5qs8.


There is video on the Internet: Kelly Hearn, “Alien-like Squid With ‘Elbows’ Filmed at Drilling Site,” National Geographic News, November 24, 2008, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081124-giant-squid-magnapinna.html.


The pilots have also seen: Crew of Ocean Intervention III, interviews by author, Port Fourchon, Louisiana, July 2010.


“Think of a giant roach”: Thomas Shirley, interview with author.


The world at depth: This description comes from personal observation during my visit to the Development Driller II as it drilled one of the relief wells. I was able to watch an ROV technician as he flew a submersible around the DDII’s BOP. At the Oceaneering headquarters in Morgan City, Louisiana, I was able to fly an ROV on a simulator.


p. 48

A top executive at BP: Lamar McKay, interview by Jake Tapper, This Week, ABC, May 2, 2010,http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/bp-accident-caused-failed-piece-equipment/story?id=10533276#.Tu4nG1b2sd8. McKay’s full quote:“This is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet in the dark with robot-controlled submarines.”


p. 49

“Because it’s a barbaric arm”: Tim Weiss, interview by author, Port Fourchon, Louisiana, July 2010.


p. 50

David Hayes, deputy secretary: David Hayes, personal communication with author.


p. 51

Meanwhile, Doug Martin:Martin, testimony, 120–24.


McKechnie finally reached:Robert McKechnie, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, October 5, 2010, 38–39.


Winslow passed along the instruction:Winslow, testimony, 54–56.


Chapter Four


p. 57

“What you see going on right now”: Rear Admiral Mary Landry, Unified Command briefing, Robert, Louisiana, April 25, 2010. To my knowledge, the news briefings of April 25 and April 26 are not on the web, and there are no public transcripts. However, thanks to a source, I was able to view videos of the briefings, from which these quotes are taken. See also John Rudolf, “Department of Justice Investigates BP for Faulty Oil Spill Estimates,” Huffington Post, August 22, 2011,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/21/bp-flow-rate-estimates-un_n_932425.html.


p. 58

“We have the world’s best experts”: Doug Suttles, Unified Command briefing, Robert, Louisiana, April 26, 2010; video viewed by author.



“Earth Day has become much more”: President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at Earth Day Reception” (speech, Rose Garden, the White House, April 22, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-earth-day-reception.


p. 61

As The Washington Postlater documented: Michael Leahy and Juliet Eilperin, “Lifting the Drilling Moratorium: How Politics Spilled into Policy,”Washington Post, October 13, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/12/AR2010101206279_pf.html.


As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: Ibid.


There were only 2,089 wells: The 410 figure is the number of wells 5,000 feet deep and deeper. The information was supplied to the author by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly MMS).


The Wall Street Journal ran: Ben Casselman, Russell Gold, and Angel Gonzalez, “Blast Jolts Oil World,”Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704133804575197613591134990.html. My newspaper was slower to get the story onto the front page. On April 22, the Washington Post ran a news “brief,” authored by the Associated Press and printed in the Nation Digest inside the A section, right above a brief about the dangers of feeding leftover bones to dogs. The next day, April 23, the paper ran another brief from the AP. Coverage ramped up quickly after that, but the story didn’t make the front page of the Post until April 29.


p. 62

Hours after the rig sank: “OilRig Sinks in Gulf: 11 Workers Still Missing,”Drudge Report Archives, snapshot on April 22, 2010, at 3:01 p.m. EDT, http://www.drudgereportarchives.com/data/2010/04/22/20100422_200139.htm.


On April 23, before the gusher: Associated Press, “Search Ends for Missing Oil Rig Workers,” msnbc.com, April 23, 2010, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36732329/ns/us_news-environment/#.Tu0kKFb2sd8.


“BP Offers Full Support”:BP, “BP Offers Full Support to Transocean After Drilling Rig Fire,” press release, April 21, 2010, http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7061458.


Even a couple of weeks: “It wasn’t our

accident”: NBC, “Fire Booms Neglected in Oil Cleanup?” msnbc.com, May 3, 2010, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36912754/ns/us_news-environment/#.Tu0k61b2sd8.

Video: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/36910725#36910725.


p. 64

BP could blame other companies: Vera H-C Chan, “2010 Year in Review: Top 10 Searches,” Yahoo! News, http://yearinreview.yahoo.com/2010/us_top_10_searches#Top%2010%20Searches.


p. 65

“I agree, but how do we prove it?”: John Amos and Ian MacDonald, interviews by author.


What did I do wrong?: Ibid.


p. 66

Conclusion: a low estimate: Document provided to House Energy and Commerce Committee, obtained by author.


But on April 28: BP engineers, interviews by author.


p. 67

“BP has just briefed me”: Rear Admiral Mary Landry, reported by Tom Bearden, “Louisiana Declares State of Emergency as Oil Spill Nears Shore,” Newshour, PBS, April 29, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/jan-june10/oil1_04-29.html.


p. 68

The oil spill: Associated Press, “Obama Says Stopping Oil Spill Could Take Many Days,” Newsmax, May 2, 2010, http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/US-Gulf-Oil-Spill/2010/05/02/id/357571.


p. 69

The secretary of homeland security: “Today I will be designating that this is a Spill of National Significance”: Janet Napolitano, “Press Briefing on the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast,” press conference, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, April 29, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-bp-oil-spill-gulf-coast.


Ken Salazar told reporters: Richard Fausset and Jim Tankersley, “Oil from Rig Explosion Hits Louisiana Coast,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/01/nation/la-na-oil-spill-20100501.


He was gradually developing: Ken Salazar, interview by Candy Crowley, State of the Union, CNN, May 2, 2010, transcript, http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1005/02/sotu.02.html.


p. 70

Obama said the spill: President Barack Obama, “A Massive and Potentially UnprecedentedEnvironmental Disaster”(speech,Venice, Louisiana, May 2, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/02/a-massive-and-potentially-unprecedented-environmental-disaster.


p. 71

“The US government response”: Heidi Avery, “The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill,” The White House Blog, May 5, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/05/ongoing-administration-wide-response-deepwater-bp-oil-spill.


Chapter Five


p. 75

“We concluded that this was probably”: Tom Hunter, interview by author.


p. 76

When a BBC reprter asked: “Deepwater Disaster—The Untold Story,” Horizon, BBC, January 29, 2011,http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5qs8.



“Once I get themental model down”: Admiral Thad Allen, interview by author.


p. 78

He also favors the fifty-dollar word: Admiral Thad Allen, interview by Candy Crowley, State of the Union, CNN, May 2, 2010,http://articles.cnn.com/2010-05-02/politics/oil.spill.government_1_rig-spill-gulf-of-mexico-oil?_s=PM:POLITICS.


p. 79

“We continue to aggressively execute”: Rear Admiral Mary Landry, Unified Command briefing, Robert, Louisiana, May 3, 2010, partial transcript, http://www.livedash.com/transcript/closing_bell_with_maria_bartiromo/5406/CNBC/Monday_May_03_2010/283342/.


p. 80

“This stack is plumbed wrong”: Billy Stringfellow, testimony


BP engineer Harry Thierens: Unpublished MBI exhibit obtained by author.


p. 82

“Oil Set to Hit ‘Loop Current’”: Associated Press, “Oil Spill to Hit Florida Keys: Will Hit Loop Current within 24 Hours,”Huffington Post, May 3, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/03/oil-spill-to-hit-florida-_n_561653.html


p. 83

“Scientists Envision Devastation for Gulf”: Joel Achenbach, “After Gulf Coast Oil Spill, Scientists Envision Devastation for Region,”Washington Post, May 5, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050402980.html.


p. 84

“On the night of April 20”: Sorcha Faal, “US Orders Blackout over North Korean Torpedoing of Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig,” WhatDoesItMean.com, May 1, 2010, http://www.whatdoesitmean.com/index1367.htm.


Before one of Governor Jindal’s news conferences: This was the kicker of my May 5 story, a detail contributed by my colleague David Fahrenthold in Louisiana.


p. 86

But then BP told them: Rich Camilli and Andy Bowen, interviews by author.


MacDonald, the oceanographer: Ian MacDonald, interview by author.


p. 87

McNutt’s verdict: Marcia McNutt, interview by author.


Chapter Six


p. 92

Chu was aman who could tell you: Steven Mufson, “For Energy Chief, Race Is On To Find Fuel Alternatives,”Washington Post, November 14, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/13/AR2010111300229_pf.html.


“Coal is my worst nightmare”: Steven Mufson, “Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Renowned Physicist, at Center of Solyndra Policy Storm,”Washington Post, October 27, 2011,http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/energy-secretary-steven-chu-renowned-physicist-at-center-of-solyndra-policy-storm/2011/10/10/gIQAy02WNM_print.html.


He had warned: Steven Chu, “Commencement Address” (speech, Harvard University, June 4, 2009), transcript, http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/06/u-s-energy-secretary-steven-chus-address-at-harvards-afternoon-exercises/.


p. 93

They were kind of like the X-Men: For some articles on the Chu science team, see Jessica Resnick-Ault and Katarzyna Klimasinska, “Bomb Designer, Mars Expert Sent by Obama to Fix Oil Spill,” Bloomberg, May 14, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-05-14/obama-sends-bomb-inventor-mars-expert-to-fix-bp-oil-spill-in-mexican-gulf.html?xid=huffbloomberg; Zachary Roth, “Mission Impossible: Obama Taps Crack Team of Scientists To Do the Job BP Can’t,” Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2010, http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/05/mission_impossible_obama_taps_crack_team_of_scient.php?ref=fpblg; and Mary Delach Leonard, “Conversation with Jonathan Katz, Wash U Scientist Consulting with Engineers on Oil Spill,” St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2010, http://www.stlbeacon.org/content/view/102406/107/.


“I was working a whole lot of gizmos”: Alex Slocum, interview by author.


p. 94

“Producing oil/gas through tubing”: Richard Garwin, email to science team, May 13, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 95

“Now I’ll look at the details”: Ibid.


“Building on Dick Garwin’s idea”: Steven Chu, email to science team, May 16, 2010; obtained by author.


“We have mentioned the problem”: Richard Garwin, email to science team, May 15, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 96

“As a collective group”: Kent Wells, interview by author.


p. 97

As required by law: BP internal email; obtained by author.


The BP war room: Joel Achenbach, “In BP ‘War Room,’ Small Victories, Many Uncertainties,”Washington Post, July 3, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070205570.html?hpid=topnews. I visited the BP war room on three occasions during the spill—in June, August, and December 2010.


p. 99

“If we get at all distracted by that”: Kent Wells, interview by author, Houston, June 2010.


p. 100

He was, among the BP engineers:Steven Chu, email, July 31, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 102

But when Marcia McNutt: Marcia McNutt, interview by author.


“[T]he evolution of the design of machines”: Witold Rybczynski,Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology(New York: Viking Press, 1983).


p. 104

Calling it a blowout: Tom Junod, “Black Noise: How to Define a Gulf Disaster Beyond Definition,” Esquire, June 1, 2010, http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/naming-the-gulf-oil-spill-060110.


My Washington Post colleague: Hank Stuever, “BP’s Oil Spillcam: A Horror Movie about the Gulf That’s Deeply Compelling,” Washington Post, May 26, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/25/AR2010052505047.html.


On the Huffington Post website: Reverend Peter M. Wallace, “BP Oil Spill: Is the Earth Bleeding for Our Sins?” Huffington Post, June 21, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-peter-m-wallace/bp-oil-spill-is-the-earth_b_617259.html.


An energetic science reporter: Richard Harris, “Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates,” NPR, May 14, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126809525.


Chapter Seven


p. 110

The crisis seemed like: Joel Achenbach, “In the Bayou, Fish and Oil Have Mixed for Decades,”Washington Post, May 20, 2010,http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/19/AR2010051903360.html. Also see my blog: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/achenblog/2010/05/faces_of_the_gulf_oil_spill.html.


p. 115

The only problem: For example, in an email obtained by the author, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Gulf Coast science coordinator, Dawn Lavoie, wrote to colleagues on May 16, 2010, at 12:07 a.m. that the Jindal-Nungesser plan would be detrimental to long-term coastal restoration. Excerpt: “The Jindal proposal is to dredge ~1 mile offshore of the barrier islands and pile that material just offshore on an offshore bar if present, otherwise in shallow water in a continuous berm. It will be 6’ high and 300’ wide at the water line; depending on water depth, it may have to be considerably wider at its underwater base. It is intended to be sacrificial, i.e., it will last only about 30–90 days. The intent is only to prevent the movement of oil onshore; it will NOT “restore” the islands and is not part of a coastal restoration plan. Successful coastal restoration would mimic the natural processes of barrier island evolution, including lateral transport of sand to the flanks of the island chain from a centralized sand source (around Monkey Bayou) that would enhance the ability of the islands to naturally build backbarrier marsh, dunes, and a sandy shoreline. Island area could be maintained with strategic sand placement. Dredging a mile offshore as requested in the Jindal proposal is within the depth of closure and will deepen and steepen the shoreface and encourage erosion as the current regime is altered. In general, this would be extremely detrimental to the longevity of the islands…”


p. 117

“You had this sort of overarching philosophy: Richard Sears, interview by author.


p. 122

Seven days after the blowout: MBI exhibit obtained by author. Each investigator made independent notes about the interview with Vidrine. There is no precise transcript, and Vidrine has never made a public comment about the blowout, to my knowledge.


p. 124

Morel told the investigators: MBI exhibit obtained by author.


p. 125

Displace to seawater: They were displacing mud in the riser and the casing all the way down to a depth of 8367 feet, and replacing it with sea water. At that depth, they would set their second cement plug, the final, “surface” plug. Normally engineers set that surface plug nearer to the actual surface. They were setting it at an unusually deep level. The engineers had decided that they could secure the wellhead with a “lockdown sleeve” by hanging a long stretch of drillpipe from it, inside the casing. The lockdown sleeve, to be locked down, needs to be weighted so that it can pop into place. So this was the plan: Remove the heavy mud, replace it with lighter seawater, then hang 3,000-plus feet of drillpipe from the lockdown sleeve. But they never locked down the lockdown sleeve, nor did they insert the “surface” cement plug, because the well exploded first. Here was a fundamental problem: The well team had designed a temporary abandonment plan in which key safety steps, most importantly the setting of the top cement plug, were taken after the heavy mud was pulled from the riser and replaced with much lighter seawater.


Chapter Eight


p. 127

“I know you all are under pressure”: This and the other emails quoted here are from MBI exhibits obtained by the author.


p. 130

The captain’s attorney: Kyle Schonekas, interview by author.


p. 131

“I recall a scrimmage”: Douglas Brown, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 26, 2010.


p. 133

“We did talk about the negative test”: Jimmy W. Harrell, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, May 27, 2010.


p. 137

A mud shot: The decision to attempt the top kill came after BP held a review session with industry contractors. A government official based at BP headquarters told me, “All these contractors were going to make multiple millions of dollars off the procedure. You think there’s any chance in hell any of these contractors are going to say let’s not do it?”


“I was walking around”: Admiral Thad Allen, interview by author.


p. 138

“As complicated as it looks”: Kent Wells’s technical briefings can be found on the BP website: http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9036897&contentId=7067981.


p. 139

The well’s evolving leak: Office of Emergency Management,“Emergency Management Situation Report, Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” May 26, 2010. From email obtained by author.


Unified Area Command External Affairs Summary: From email obtained by author.


p. 140

A series of explosions: Joan d’Arc, “Truth about the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” Paranoids Online, May 21, 2010, http://paranoidsonline.blogspot.com/2010/05/truth-about-gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill.html.


p. 142

A White House staffer: Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Heidi E. Avery, email, May 21, 2010; obtained by author. In the email, Avery says that press officials had discussed on a conference call the development of a narrative that would give the government credit for the top kill procedure and other subsea efforts. She lists three ideas that were discussed during the call: “BP is pursuing a dynamic top kill vice junk shot as influenced by USG scientists—Secretary Chu and others made the case that a dynamic top kill with mud is lower risk, higher probability of success…BP would still have no idea what was going on down there without USG suggesting and providing technical capability, including gamma rays and X-rays—this is how BP learned that 4 of the main BOP rams are closed…USG provided advisory and technical assistance to BP to assist with pressure readings and other diagnostics critical to planning efforts to stop the leaks.”

In fact, the government had limited influence at this point of the response. Richard Garwin had pushed BP to avoid attempting a “junk shot,” on grounds that it might damage the blowout preventer, but Garwin had also argued against the top kill. The gammarays and X-rays were not obtained by the government but by private contractors; the government had merely provided a photographic plate from the Los Alamos lab.


“Also understand we may not wish”: Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Heidi E. Avery, email, May 22, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 143

Carville went on CNN: James Carville, interview by John Roberts, American Morning, CNN, May 27, 2010, transcript, http://edition.cnn.es/TRANSCRIPTS/1005/27/ltm.03.html.


He noted that Steve Chu: President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy” (speech, Fremont, California, May 26, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-economy-0.


“We have the very best people”: Doug Suttles, Unified Area Command briefing, May 26, 2010, transcript, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1005/26/ec.01.html.


But Tony Hayward went on TV: Jim Polson and Jordan Burke, “BP CEO Rates Leak Plug Success Chance About 70 Percent,” Bloomberg, May 24, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-05-24/bp-gives-top-kill-method-of-containing-spill-up-to-70-chance-of-success.html.


p. 144

Two teams within thegroup: U.S. Department of Interior, “Flow Rate Group Provides Preliminary Best Estimate of Oil Flowing from BP Oil Well,” press release, May 27, 2010,http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Flow-Rate-Group-Provides-Preliminary-Best-Estimate-Of-Oil-Flowing-from-BP-Oil-Well.cfm.


p. 145

Alex Slocum, the MIT engineer: Alex Slocum, interview by author.


“So far it is a tie”: The play-by-play emails are from Donald Q. O’Sullivan, Los Alamos National Laboratory, to other government scientists on May 26, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 146

“The operation is proceeding”: Clifford Krauss and John M. Broder, “Results of ‘Top Kill’ Effort Remain Uncertain,”New York Times, May 26, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/us/27spill.html.


“The gulf is going to be affected”: President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Gulf Oil Spill” (speech, East Room, the White House, May 27, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-gulf-oil-spill.


p. 147

The New York Times: Clifford Krauss and John M. Broder, “BP Resumes Work to Plug Oil Leak After Facing Setback,” New York Times, May 27, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/28/us/28spill.html.


“Nothing has gone wrong”: Joel Achenbach and David A. Fahrenthold, “Estimates of Oil Leak Gush Past Twice the Previous Levels; Drill Permits Yanked,”Washington Post, May 28, 2010,http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/27/AR2010052701957.html.


Friday morning, Thad Allen: “Coast Guard: ‘Encouraged’ by Progress,” ABC News, May 28, 2010,http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/coast-guard-encouraged-progress-10767997.


p. 148

“After three full days”: Doug Suttles, Unified Area Command briefing, May 29, 2010, transcript, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1005/29/cnr.10.html.


Chapter Nine


p. 150

I’m never going home:Marcia McNutt, interview by author.


He then added: Sam Champion and Kate McCarthy, “BP Oil Spill Day 35: Is It Time to Push BP Aside?”Good Morning America, ABC, May 24, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/bp-oil-spill-continues-gulf-mexico-frustration-mounts/story?id=10726217#.TvNhhlb2sd8.


The day after Salazar’s remarks: press conference, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, May 24, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-press-secretary-robert-gibbs-admiral-thad-allen-and-assistant-presid.



“And I don’t sit around”: President Barack Obama, interview by Matt Lauer, Today, NBC, June 8, 2010, partial transcript, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/37566848/ns/disaster_in_the_gulf/#.TzWDM4FfSKI.


p. 155

“You’re in it now”: Steven Chu, email to Arun Majumdar and others, June 18, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 156

An ABC News/Washington Post poll: Full results of the poll can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_060810.html.


You said earlier:press conference, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, June 1, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-press-secretary-robert-gibbs-6110.


p. 157

The project would ultimately cost: National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, “The Story of the Louisiana Berms Project” (Staff Working Paper No. 8, updated January 11, 2011), http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Updated%20Berms%20Working%20Paper.pdf.


p. 158

“Anybody that’s ever used a saw”:press conference, June 2, 2010, transcript, the American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=87964#axzz1m10RvFCL.


p. 165

On CNN, the press secretary :P ress Secretary Robert Gibbs, interview by John Roberts, American Morning, CNN, June 15, 2010, transcript, http://cgi.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1006/15/ltm.03.html.


Chapter Ten


p. 168

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: press conference, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, June 9, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-press-secretary-robert-gibbs-6910.


BP put out a statement: BP, “BP is Not Aware of Any Reason for Share Price Movement,” press release, June 10, 2010, http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7062827.


p. 169

Speaking casually into a camera:See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIA_sL4cSlo&feature=player_embedded#at=20.


p. 171

In spite of the well’s difficulties: Congressman Henry A. Waxman and Congressman Bart Stupak, letter to Tony Hayward, June 14, 2010, http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/documents/20100614/Hayward.BP.2010.6.14.pdf.


p. 172

Because there has never been a leak: President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill” (speech, Oval Office, the White House, June 15, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-nation-bp-oil-spill.


p. 174

“BP is a strong and viable company”: President Barack Obama, “Statement by the President after Meeting with BP Executives” (speech, State Dining Room, the White House, June 16, 2010), transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/statement-president-after-meeting-with-bp-executives.


p. 175

Svanberg spoke for the team: Scott Wilson and Joel Achenbach, “BP Agrees to $20 Billion Fund for Gulf Claims; Executives, Obama Meet; Company Officials Apologize for Oil Spill,” Washington Post, June 17, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR2010061602614.html?nav=emailpage.


The next morning: House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Hearing on the Role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill, June 17, 2010, transcript, http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=hearing/hearing-on-the-role-of-bp-in-the-deepwater-horizon-explosion-and-oil-spill.


p. 178

“Tony Hayward and his yachting habit”: Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, June 21, 2010, transcript,http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-deputy-press-secretary-bill-burton-62110.


p. 179

They hated his entire industry: Steven Mufson, “New Point Man on BP’s Troubled Shores; Dudley’s List: Plug Well, Clean Up Spill, Contain Harm to Blotted Image,” Washington Post, June 27, 2010.


Chapter Eleven


p. 195

As BP engineer Kent Wells: BP, Technical Briefing with Kent Wells, July 10, 2010, transcript, http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/kent_wells_presentation_transcript_07_10_2010.pdf.


“The way the sealing of the flange”: Ibid.


p. 196

“Jane, BP meteorologist”: Admiral Thad Allen, email to Jane Lubchenco, July 7, 2010; obtained by author.


p. 197

“We think this weather window”: Gulf Coast Task Force, “Press Briefing by National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen,” press release, July 9, 2010, transcript, http://www.restorethegulf.gov/release/2010/07/09/transcript-press-briefing-national-incident-commander-admiral-thad-allen-july-9-2.


On July 10: BP, Technical Briefing with Kent Wells.


p. 198

“The problem is”: BP, Technical Briefing Conference Call, July 12, 2010, transcript, http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/Doug_Suttles_conference07122010_330PMET.pdf.


p. 201

Finally, late in the evening: Gulf Coast Task Force, “Statement from National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen on Well Integrity Test,” press release, July 13, 2010, transcript, http://www.restorethegulf.gov/release/2010/07/13/statement-national-incident-commander-admiral-thad-allen-well-integrity-test.


p. 211

“As we all know”: press conference, Rose Garden, the White House, July 16, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-press.


p. 213

Kent Wells said: BP, AM Technical Briefing, July 18, 2010, transcript, http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/technical_briefing_transcript_18_07_0730CDT.pdf.


In a conference call with reporters: Ibid.


p. 214

“Given the current observations”: Admiral Thad Allen, letter to Bob Dudley, July 18, 2010, http://www.restorethegulf.gov/sites/default/files/imported_pdfs/posted/2931/BP_Letter_18_July.791571.pdf.


A New York Times science blogger: Andrew C. Revkin, “BP Pressed to Assess ‘Seep’ Near Its Well,” Dot Earth blog,New York Times, July 18, 2010, http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/bp-pressed-to-assess-seep-near-its-well/.


A writer for Time magazine: Bryan Walsh, “Oil Spill: Is the Well Damaged?” Ecocentric, Time, July 18, 2010,http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2010/07/18/oil-spill-is-the-well-leaking/.


Chapter Twelve


p. 217

Do you know what Weatherford equipment: Lance Moore John, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 19, 2010, transcript, http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg545/dw/exhib/7-19-10.pdf.


p. 219

Why was there such a large spacer?: Leo Lindner, testimony at hearingbefore the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, July 19, 2010, transcript, http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg545/dw/exhib/7-19-10.pdf.


p. 223

“It just added another little risk”: Richard Sears, interview by author.


p. 224

We would eventually hear: Jesse Gagliano, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, August 24, 2010,http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/295154-103.


p. 225

The report concluded: National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Macondo: The Gulf Oil Disaster, Chief Counsel’s Report, 2011, 161.



“I believethere is a bladder effect”: Ibid., 229.


p. 229

“David, over the past four days”: Tom Fowler, “BP Emails Indicate Strain Before Gulf Oil Spill,” FuelFix blog, Houston Chronicle, April 5, 2011,http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/04/05/bp-emails-indicate-strain-before-gulf-oil-spill/.


p. 230

Indeed, in early August: Clifford Krauss, Henry Fountain, and John M. Broder, “Acrimony Behind the Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill,”New York Times, August 26, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/27/us/27well.html.


p. 231

“Sometimes they seem to change”: Email obtained by author.


“We may ‘kill the well’”: Email obtained by author.


p. 233

“The vast majority of the oil”:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Federal Science Report Details Fate of Oil from BP Spill,” press release, August 4, 2010,http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100804_oil.html.


p. 234

“Robert, back in May”: press conference, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the White House, August 4, 2010, transcript, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-briefing-press-secretary-robert-gibbs-admiral-thad-allen-carol-browner-and-dr.


p. 235

The official corporate answer: BP, email from Daren Beaudo, BP spokesman, to author, February 14, 2011.


p. 236

“Nobody understood it”: Admiral Thad Allen, interview by author.


“In your future life”: Steven Chu, “Commencement Address” (speech, Harvard University, June 4, 2009), transcript, http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/06/u-s-energy-secretary-steven-chus-address-at-harvards-afternoon-exercises/.



Perrow writes: Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 1999), 11.


p. 240

“Small failures abound”: Ibid., 9.


p. 243

“Where did you sit”: Gregory Walz, testimony at hearing before the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team, October 7, 2010, http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/295879-2.


p. 246

“The oftenmade assertion: National Academy of Engineering, “Interim Report on Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Blowout and Ways to Prevent Such Events,” November 16, 2010,http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13047&page=1.




p. 253

At the end of January: “BP Reports $4.9bn Annual Loss after Oil Spill Costs,” BBC News, February 1, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12331804.


According to a report: Tim Webb and Tom Bawden, “Court Order Halts BP Talks with Rosneft,” Guardian, February 1, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/01/bp-loss-gulf-oil-spill-resumes-dividend.



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