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Blowout in the Gulf

The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America

William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling

Publication Year: 2010

The story of how a chain of failures, missteps, and bad decisions led to America’s biggest environmental disaster.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7


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pp. vii-9

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Prologue: The Deep-water Horror Zone

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pp. ix-xiii

April 20, 2010, had been a pretty good day for the friends on the 26-foot craft, Endorfin. Fishing for blackfin tuna, they had caught their limit, and as night fell, they headed toward the Deepwater Horizon—a gigantic drilling rig that had been enjoying a pretty good day...

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1. A Question for Our Time

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pp. 1-7

When future historians look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century, they are likely to focus much of their attention on the dramatic images provided by the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Millions of Americans watched as the tanks rolled into Baghdad, where a small crowd of happy Iraqis cheered as the tanks pulled down...

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2. The Macondo Mess

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pp. 9-20

Officially speaking, BP’s drilling was taking place in a location that the U.S. Department of the Interior calls “MC 252”—government- speak for “Mississippi Canyon block 252.” In practice, though, most drilling operations are remembered through their code names, which simplify...

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3. Stored Sunlight and Its Risks

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pp. 21-61

As we think about that rapidly disappearing oil, it might be helpful to have at least an English-language understanding of how it got to be there in the first place. The basic starting point is that, like other forms of fuel, oil and gas can be thought of as a special form of stored sunlight, or more specifically...

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4. Colonel of an Industry

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pp. 63-74

The founders of the United States had no way of knowing it, but their new nation was born with a treasure chest in the basement. Below the rich natural resources that were visible on the surface, the territories that would ultimately be included in these United States were the home to some of the world’s richest...

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5. Barons and Barrels

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pp. 75-90

For the barons of industry who took over American oil production in the era after the Civil War, the usual concern had little to do with overadaptation; they wanted to encourage the growth of oil consumption. The most influential oil baron of all—John D. Rockefeller, Sr.—was the man who played that...

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6. Off the Edge in All Directions

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pp. 91-112

Just a few years before the discovery at Spindletop, the world would experience another technological breakthrough in oil drilling, although it had a significance that only started to become more clear about fifty years later—the drilling of the first “offshore” oil wells, in 1898. The location was Summerland, California, less than...

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7. “Energy Independence”

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pp. 113-128

More than two decades ago, during the last period when large numbers of Americans were paying much attention to their energy uses, a book by Gibbons and Chandler noted, “While it may not be necessary to go all the way back to creation to begin an analysis of energy, more is called for than the usual ‘Beginning with the Arab Oil...

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8. To Know Us Is to Love Us?

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pp. 129-152

In 1990—ten years after the start of the policies that had been put in place by James Watt, and almost exactly twenty years before the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon—the two of us started a small pilot study for the very agency that James Watt had shaped to implement his policies, namely the U.S. Minerals Management...

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9. Cleaning Up

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pp. 153-170

Some forty years ago, after the Santa Barbara oil spill, a friend of ours wrote about the striking disjuncture between the technology available for oil drilling—already sophisticated and expensive at that time—versus the distinctly low-tech options that were available for cleaning...

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10. Today and Tomorrow

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pp. 171-189

Contrary to the superficial impression that expanded offshore oil drilling would be “good for the economy,” the reality is that U.S. energy policies over the past quarter-century have conferred most of their benefits to a handful of the world’s largest oil companies, doing so while offering little if any visible advantage for...


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pp. 191-201


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pp. 203-223


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pp. 225-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780262294126
E-ISBN-10: 0262294125
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262015837
Print-ISBN-10: 0262015838

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 5 graphs
Publication Year: 2010