In the opening scene of the new movie about the real-life Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe, a little girl is having breakfast with her parents before her engineer dad heads back out to his job on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for his usual 21-day stint.
The girl is going to be showing her class how an oil rig works. The experiment includes a straw, a can of Coke, and some honey. She wants to impress her dad with her explanation before he leaves. Her mom, played by actress Kate Hudson, shakes up the Coke so it’s ready to burst. The girl slips the straw into the can’s pop top and holds her finger on top to keep the frothy soda contained under pressure. Then she pours honey into the straw. The honey is supposed to keep the soda from shooting up out of the straw. It’s just like on a deepwater rig, she tells her dad, actor Mark Wahlberg playing Mike Williams, the actual engineer on the rig. You drill the pipe, then plug it with mud so it won’t explode.
Just then, the honey loses out against the force of the Coke, the flimsy straw gives way, and soda shoots all over the kitchen. It’s a harbinger of what happens on the Deepwater Horizon a few hours later, when the worst oil disaster in American history occurs.
The Deepwater Horizon tragedy happened in 2010, so you may have forgotten the details. This movie brings them wrenchingly back into light. The oil rig was positioned some 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana and Alabama where all you can see in any direction and all the way to the horizon is beautiful blue water. It was essentially a huge, multi-storied platform that floated around a pipe drilled almost 5,000 feet down to the ocean floor, then 18,000 feet further until it tapped into oil. The pipe’s operation was supposed to be secured by caps cemented around its ocean floor base. But as the film makes clear, the cement became too weak to withstand the pressure exerted on it by natural gas forcing its way up from the oil well.
Once the pipe starts to crumble, a deadly cocktail of oil and natural gas shoots through the rig. Hellfire erupts, sending cranes and drills and machinery weighing thousands of pounds crashing to the decks below as if a big Erector set were being trashed in a childish fit. Eleven people lose their lives in the flames and wreckage. Some people have to jump 5 or 6 stories down into burning water to escape the conflagration – though they’re not safe even then, because so much deadly debris is shooting off the platforms and knifing into the water all around them. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be trapped inside an inferno, this film shows you.
Though Deepwater Horizon effectively captures the horror of the explosion, its poignancy comes in the telling of the heroism the rig workers showed in the face of this totally unnecessary disaster. And the anger it makes you feel comes from realizing why the cement weakened in the first place.
The rig was owned by a company called Transoceanic, but leased by energy giant BP, and BP called the shots. To save money, BP stinted on inspections and repairs, a management approach it would come to regret in spades. In the ultimate example of “penny wise, pound foolish,” BP ended up paying billions of dollars in fines to cover the damage done when the over 200 million gallons of oil that spewed from the damaged well during 87 days ruined fisheries, wildlife sanctuaries, and people’s livelihoods, not to mention the 11 people who died during the blow up itself.
Reviewer Mike Ryan of Uproxx praised the film’s performances and ability to make audiences angry at BP: “I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we needed a movie about this subject. I’ve changed my mind. And, if nothing else, I hope it gets people angry again, because the people who did this to our planet, and killed 11 people in the process, got off too easy.”
See the movie. I think you’ll agree.