Despite massive attention to environmental impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the death of 11 rig workers has not had the same impact as the tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
One article in The Washington Post described events at the moment of disaster, but there has been little tribute to the knowledge and experience these workers bring to the job of managing risk and preventing future disasters.
The Deepwater disaster bears surprising similarity to a mine disaster.
In the Sago disaster, methane accumulated in a sealed area of the mine. Seals failed, and workers were trapped when a methane explosion ripped through the mine’s primary escapeway.
In the Deepwater disaster, the rig’s blowout preventers (BOPs) failed, and a massive methane explosion ignited the fire that destroyed the rig and killed eleven workers. The explosion occurred during the rig’s transition to production—a particularly sensitive time in any mining system, particular when out-of-production reservoirs of methane sit idle prior to production.
Unlike the Upper Big Branch mine—with its transparent record of 1029 violations, Transocean celebrated its safety culture in a now-poignant hip-hop video published in summer 2009 urging rigworkers to keep their hands high—away from hazardous equipment.