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Slouching Toward Disaster

[+] Author Affiliations
Stephen A. Batzer

Batzer Engineering, Inc., Prairie Grove, AR

John S. Morse

John S. Morse, P.E., Westville, OK

Paper No. IMECE2011-62934, pp. 555-564; 10 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 9: Transportation Systems; Safety Engineering, Risk Analysis and Reliability Methods; Applied Stochastic Optimization, Uncertainty and Probability
  • Denver, Colorado, USA, November 11–17, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5495-2
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


“But, who cares, it’s done, end of story, [we] will probably be fine and we’ll get a good cement job.” This is an oft-repeated email quotation from one BP engineer to another on April 16, 2010, just four days before the Macondo well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico. Although these two men survived, 11 others did not. The well blowout also brought with it poisoning of the ecology and vast financial loss. This quote, part of a discussion about centralizers for the well (BP ended up with just six instead of the planned 16 or 21), seems to epitomize the attitude regarding a series of decisions made about the well’s design. The product of the decisions was complete loss and worse. However, the parties did not seem to be aware of the importance of their individual decisions or their consequences as they were making them. This disaster, like many others, seemed in retrospect to unfold in slow motion, and the players involved did not perceive the sheer cliff before them until they had transgressed its edge. This paper will examine decision-making processes in the Deepwater Horizon blowout and a series of other disasters, both high and low profile events. All of these preventable events stemmed from decision-making failures. These failures include disregarding existing information, failing to soberly extrapolate “what if?” when existing information contained uncertainty, failing to obtain vital missing information, failing to question decisions — particularly from those considered authoritative, and a cavalier attitude regarding rules because probably nothing will happen anyway. “Who cares?”

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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