Book Review: Black Tide (2011)

The devastating impact of the Gulf Oil Spill
by Antonia Juhasz

black_tideAntonia’s book is especially pertinent today with the debut of the Peter Berg movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell, Deepwater Horizon (2016).

Ms. Antonia Juhasz is one tough and persistent cookie, and has made a career out of exposing the antihuman practices of oil companies worldwide, as well as fighting government policies that enable such practices to continue. She is the author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the world one economy at a time (2006) and The Tyranny of Oil: The world’s most powerful industry—and what we must do to stop it (2008). She writes superbly and covers all the bases as she does; further, through the rigor of her documentation she conveys a sensitivity to human suffering and human beings that cannot be faked.

Her attacks on the patently criminal worldwide Oil Leviathan and the political engines that stoke it are delivered in the manner of a mother protecting her children from genocide rather than a warrior dispensing with a vile enemy in combat.

And like the two women from the Protestant and Catholic sides in Ireland who walked for peace—Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, Nobel Peace Prize winners 1977—Antonia is fighting for peace and freedom… freedom for all people to be secure in their property and natural-living resources against aggression by ‘the Corporation,’ ongoing incarnations of the MOPS (Men of the Power Sickness)[1]. What are the weapons in this fight for peace? Fundamentally, truth and grass roots outrage. With Black Tide, Ms. Juhasz gives us a thorough helping of the former and at least sets the stage for the latter.

The Deepwater Horizon Disaster—Summary and Context

At 9:49 p.m., on April 20, 2010, a gas bubble climbed more than 18,000 feet of pipe on a fatal collision course with the offshore drilling platform named Deepwater Horizon. The gas led to two explosions:

“The explosions should not have happened, nor should they have destroyed the rig once they did occur. First, operations in the mud pit should have been automatically halted when the gas entered the area. Second, the engine that sparked the second explosion should have automatically shut down. Third, the blowout preventer (BOP) should have prevented the blowout. Fourth, the emergency disconnect should have separated the rig from the well. Finally, the automatic mode function [responsible for the expected automatic safety responses] should have had fresh batteries.” — Page 28

Juhasz’s treatment of the causes and effects in the scenario, of the engineering systems and key failures in real time, of the bravery of some individuals and the cowardice of others during the initial catastrophe, of the corporate culture that manifested a ‘who cares?’ attitude about emergencies or planning therefore, and then of the ‘spill’ itself—including BP stealth and conniving to keep the truth from coming out at all costs—ranks among the best nonfictional suspense writing one will ever encounter. Most readers simply will be enthralled with the technical awareness of the author and her taut, flowing humanitarian narrative.

Chapter 1: The Explosion of the Deepwater Horizon is unsurpassed literature; Chapter 2: What You Can’t See Can Kill You: The BP Macondo Oil Monster Escapes is great literature; Chapter 3: Body Count: Oil, Gas, and Dispersant Attack the People, Wildlife, and Wild Places of the Gulf is very good literature… and the remainder of the book is effective literature. You will come away with an extraordinary understanding of an earthshaking series of events.

“On August 2, 2010, the final ‘government estimate of discharge’ was released, using Secretary [of Energy] Chu’s analysis and data. The final finding was that between 55,800 and 68,200 barrels of oil a day flowed from the Macondo Well from April 22 until the riser was cut on June 3—the equivalent of approx. one Exxon Valdez tanker disaster pouring into the Gulf every four days. After June 3, the rate declined to between 47,700 and 58,300 barrels of oil a day until the well was capped on July 15….

“The final consensus (although one disputed by BP) is that roughly 5 million barrels—210 million gallons—of oil were released by the Macondo well, making it the largest environmental disaster in US history and the second-largest oil spill in the world [first is when Saddam Hussein opened the valves on Kuwaiti oil lines to impede US invasion in 1991].” — Page 85

As for the context, the following passage lays out the truth of preparation for and handling of such disasters:

The National Oil Spill Commission concluded in November 2010 that “on April 20, the oil and gas industry was unprepared to respond to a deepwater blowout, and the federal government was similarly unprepared to provide meaningful supervision…. BP had to construct novel devices, and the government had to mobilize personnel on the fly, because neither was ready for a disaster of this nature in deepwater.” — Page 221

Or put another way and much more urgently by a man who survived the blowout of Deepwater Horizon:

The event was set in motion years ago by these companies needlessly rushing to make money faster, while cutting corners to save money. When these companies put their savings over our safety, they gambled with our lives. They gambled with my life. They gambled with the lives of 11 of my crew members who will never see their families or loved ones again. — Steven Lane Stone, Transocean roustabout, May 27, 2010 (Page 5)

That’s what we find out in the beginning, when we discover the causes of the incident: not only were BP and the other corporations involved in drilling the Macondo well unprepared for a disaster, with conscious intent they were criminally negligent in preventing the disaster. [Note I’m using criminal in a colloquial sense, although it is expected the government will pursue criminal charges of all kinds vs. the oil giant. Numerous civil cases and lawsuits are also making their way through the courts. Unfortunately, corporate privilege cemented throughout the state and federal judicial systems will probably translate to the Exxon Valdez ‘getting away with murder’ response.]

The Followup

Antonia wraps her considerable intellect and emotional sensitivity around all the numbers, then follows the trail of deceit and government/BP secrecy that continues to this day: Primarily, the cleanup and remediation efforts have been cloaked under an unprecedented security blanket that has impeded independent journalists from getting the truth about a) the health effects, b) the environmental effects, c) the toxicity of extensive use of of biologically-dangerous, untested dispersants, d) the flawed victim damage claims and compensation process, and e) even the whereabouts of the oil slick, most of which, because of the dispersants, has ended up at the bottom of the Gulf. Journalists are prevented from beaches and no-fly zones are enforced by armed government, military, and BP security police.

The latter part of Black Tide deals mainly with public policy response, and even has a chapter entitled Obama Steps Up. But when you get into the meat of it, it’s clear that the Obama administration was in denial about the extent of the disaster, it and the rest of Washington cooperated en masse with the political oil ‘plantation’ culture that owns them, apologized for that culture and BP, and concealed facts about the short-term catastrophe. They will also, in lockstep, continue to play their owners’ hand as the devastating effects on human life unfold.

I guess that’s my only mild disappointment with Antonia Juhasz’s marvelous book: she avoids the obvious remedy: libertarian (peaceful, yet firm and thorough) overthrow of the entire, rotted corporate-government system.


[1] MOPS: Men of the Power Sickness, aka the Power, the Money Power, the Borg, the <central controlling entity>.

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