Environment Forum

What offshore miners know


Dr. Beverly A. Sauer is a professor of management communication at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Any views expressed here are her own.

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.

Lessons from the Exxon Valdez spill


–Riki Ott, PhD, has written two books on the Exxon Valdez oil spill impacts on people, communities, and wildlife, including the recently released Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  Any views expressed here are her own.–

I remember the words, “We’ve had the Big One,” with chilling clarity, spoken just over 21 years ago when a fellow fisherman arrived at my door in the early morning and announced that the Exxon Valdez had run aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and was gushing oil.

For the small fishing community of Cordova, Alaska, where I lived and worked as a commercial fisherma’am, it was our worst nightmare.

Human “Message from the North” to climate negotiators

If you want to send a message, the old Hollywood saying goes, call Western Union. But environmental activists chose a different medium to get through to climate change negotiators: they put their bodies on the line — in this case, the Alaskan tundra — to spell out “Save The Arctic” and sketch the outline of a caribou.

Members of the Gwich’in Nation gathered last weekend near Arctic Village, Alaska, to send what they called a “Message from the North” to environmental diplomats gathering this week in Bonn, Germany.

The Alaskan activists want permanent protection from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the far northern edge of Alaska where caribou roam, along with urgent action to address climate change.