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“Just One Rig”

A friend pointed out that A Village Called Versailles, a show about the travails of New Orleans’ Vietnamese community following The Storm, will air on PBS this month.

In a New Orleans neighborhood called Versailles, a tight-knit group of Vietnamese Americans overcame obstacles to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, only to have their homes threatened by a new government-imposed toxic landfill. A Village Called Versailles is the empowering story of how the Versailles people, who have already suffered so much in their lifetime, turn a devastating disaster into a catalyst for change and a chance for a better future.

“Already suffered so much in their lifetime.” All I can think about is how their health, jobs and food will be affected in the coming months and years. Theirs and that of all recovering bayou and coastal communities.


As long as we want it, this is the humiliation Lousiana and other oil-producing states will have to put up with:

BP’s Vessel of Opportunity program is promising to employ hundreds if not thousands of boatmen across the Gulf. The company will pay them to take out their own boats and deploy containment booms along the coast, provided they complete a five hour safety and hazardous materials handling course first.

… But a liability waiver issued to boatmen Plaquemines Parish this weekend spread confusion, with many fishermen worried that signing the waiver would forfeit their rights to file a claim against BP for economic losses they“ve suffered from the spill, though BP has said that is not the case. Moreover, others said the oil company was offering too little pay for the work.

To go work for the company that screwed you over. Nice. Or Karen Gadbois’s more immediate take: “Watching those guys fill out the form to go clean up, some of them just struggling to write their own names. Many of them not speaking English, sitting in a training session.”

What if the price of gasoline were to go up to $15 per gallon nationally to help pay for the cleanup? Do you think the rest of America will notice then? We are ultimately responsible, not BP.


There was a remarkably small number of cars at BP stations in Madison and Milwaukee this past weekend. This in the heartland of America, where scads of god-fearing, red-white-and-blue Amoco stations were transformed into sleek, green BPs at the beginning of this century. Hate to tell you this, but “I’m not going to gas up at BP” is not worthy activism. All oil companies are the same. “I’m not going to gas up this much or at all” is more like it. Until then, enjoy your seafood with oil sauce. Enjoy fueling your car at Shell or Chevron in protest, at the expense of fishermen’s livelihoods and dead sea life.

All oil companies are similar. I’d never work for Exxon, but there is one thing for which I hold them in high esteem: They don’t pretend to be anything other than an oil company.


Trust me, all oil companies are obsessed with the safety culture. Still, for every coal mining death, four or five oil and gas workers perish. (It makes me want to break this keyboard with my bare fists that oil and gas fatalities don’t get as much press and that, if they did, people may start to pay attention and wonder if it’s all worth it.) So, there is obviously some sort of disconnect here. Two things come to mind:

1) A preoccupation with the prescribed procedures of safety to the extent that common sense is sacrificed and

2) If an average of 120 American oil and gas workers die per year and “blowouts happen,” the industry is not inherently a safe one, and we ought not to delude ourselves that it is, even statistically speaking.

Even if oil drilling causes no blowouts and kills no one, that this one oil spill, this “freak accident,” is destroying the Louisiana coast, its fisheries and the lives of its inhabitants, is pretty goddamned shameful. I hang my head.

3 comments… add one
  • Clay May 4, 2010, 8:56 PM

    I’ll disagree a bit with you on a few specific points

    Per capita, the oil industry is better than the coal mining industry. All the accidents are drillers or transportation accidents (crashed helos). [One source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-04-08/the-20-most-dangerous-jobs/ {I’ll admit the numbers are a bit confusing, but most sources put the coal mining accident rate at at least 50% higher than the oil industry}]

    Also, I don’t agree that all oil companies are the same. Maybe they aren’t as different as 20 years ago, but there is a difference. Shell in particular has put more emphasis on engineering than anyone else and the proof is in platforms like Cognac, Auger, and Perdido, all huge steps beyond anything else that existed at their time. Furthermore, Shell has done the engineering for other companies’ platforms (Na Kika was designed and built by Shell and the keys were handed over to BP; Perdido has more of Chevron’s money in it than Shell’s). Information transfer was a huge reason why BP jumped at the chance to team up for Mars TLP. BP wouldn’t be into deepwater to nearly the degree they are now without that critical startup I.P. (would the Macondo blowout not have happened???). I don’t know of any other company that’s been trusted to build someone else’s platform.

    None of this in any way excuses BP for losing a rig and 11 lives and dumping toxic crap all over the Gulf Coast.

    • Maitri May 4, 2010, 10:02 PM

      I see your points but you are looking at GoM trees while I am looking more at a thicket, if not the forest as a whole.

      Having worked for Shell, I’ll agree with you that Shell is better in engineering and that some companies are better than others given the drilling setting, years of experience and who they hire. Then again, I worked geologic appraisal on Great White for BP right before they announced the discovery and I have never seen a more dedicated and weIl-oiled group of geoscientists and engineers. I could also be a total cocky asshole and claim that BP has a bad history given the TX City refinery, Alaska pipeline brouhaha, Thunder Horse and who else has tripped up like this in North America but I won’t because it’s asking for it. Incidents can and will happen regardless of company especially when one company thinks it’s better. Best time to fall asleep at the wheel.

      Shell has serious political problems in the Niger Delta and the company is run by the Dutch, for god’s sake (open world history textbook to late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries). Chevron has issues elsewhere in the world as do Conoco or Exxon or you name it, if you get away strictly from primacy in the GoM. How is stopping the purchase of BP gasoline going to help when we get the stuff from all over the world?

      As for fatalities, drillers and helicopters aren’t out there for their own health or independent reasons; they’re out there to extract oil or ferry workers at the behest of who they’re contracted to. The CDC and BLS don’t make the distinction you do because all of it is related to one industry.

      One could then say that the 11 workers who died aren’t oil industry fatalities and BP is then off the hook because it was Transocean’s BOP that failed.

      • Clay May 7, 2010, 3:18 PM

        Shell definitely has it’s issues. I wasn’t saying they were the best. They definitely don’t have the best geologists; they missed Prudhoe Bay, the biggest domestic oilfield. ;-) …

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