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Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster Hardcover – 10 May 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; 1 edition (10 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081626
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 963,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A titanic failure of management and policy 8 Jun 2012
By Roberto Perez-Franco - Published on
Format: Hardcover
How a culture of corner-cutting and wishful-thinking spawned a disaster in offshore drilling
[Review published in MIT's The Tech]

The horrifying image of a muddy column of oil rushing incessantly from the earth's guts into the deep blue waters of the Gulf is forever branded in my memory. As I watched in disbelief the live video feed from the bottom of the sea, showing the Macondo well vomiting poison into the ocean, week after week, impervious to the incompetent attempts of BP to kill it, there was one question that kept bouncing in my head: how on earth did this happen?

Abrahm Lustgarten, an award-winning environmental journalist and recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's "genius grant," has the answer. His devastating exposé of BP's abysmal safety record details the role the company played in what is arguably the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Run to Failure, Lustgarten's recent book, deconstructs how the Deepwater Horizon "accident" was decades in the making, how short-sighted managerial decisions led to a culture where rhetoric ("safety remains our number one priority") cloaked sloppy operations for the sake of profit. The story unfolds like a train wreck in slow-motion, from the rise of John Browne as The One inside British Petroleum in the late 1980s to the moment Andrea Fleytas radioed "Mayday!" from a burning platform in the Gulf on the night of April 20, 2010. The conclusion is as damning as it is terrifying: The great 2010 oil spill was the direct result of BP's quick and dirty approach to business. And although it was utterly avoidable, a similar or worse disaster may happen again.

Although Lustgarten divides his book formally into three parts, it makes more sense to think of it in two blocks. The first deals with the long-term "making" of the disaster, namely the broader management and regulatory aspects of the problem. Lustgarten discusses the background information on BP's managerial and cultural transformations towards increased efficiency (read: cost-cutting), its tense and dilatory interactions with ineffective regulators, and its vindictiveness against whistleblowers. It is also provides answers to questions such as why Barack Obama supported an expansion in offshore drilling, why BP was a key player in offshore drilling in the Gulf, and the origin of the company's atrocious safety culture.

The second block of the book dissects in painful detail the immediate causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These last two chapters, in my opinion, pay for the whole book. The discussion of the perils of deep-water drilling in the Macondo well and the litany of tragic mistakes that invited an unnecessary disaster read like the engineering equivalent of a thriller. Lustgarten details the countless critical mistakes made by BP in the eve of the disaster, including a series of explanations of how things should have been done according to the industry's best practices, juxtaposed with what BP did instead in order to save time or money.

A careful reading of Run to Failure will leave the reader with a clear understanding of the immediate causes of the blowout -- the multiple "aberrational decisions" made by rogue managers, which could and should have been anticipated. But it will also help the reader understand why, as the official inquiry on the disaster puts it, the root causes of the spill were "systemic" and "might well recur" without significant reform in both industry practice and government policies. "Most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure - a failure of management," states the report. Sadly, as Lustgarten makes it clear in the closing pages, the regulation of the industry has not been improved enough -- not even close.

If you are short on time, Frontline's documentary The Spill will give you a taste of BP's lame safety culture leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But the deeper analysis that Run to Failure presents has no substitute: Lustgarten's narrative is so well-written, his argument so clear and detailed, and his message so urgent that I strongly encourage any person interested in American energy policy in the 21st century to read this book and take in its painful lessons. Learn them, I say, and stand up, because industry regulators haven't.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great book really truthful I know I work for Bp 18 Nov 2012
By Everette Webb - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Really insightfully written I was surprised that Bp even agreed to let it be published..I found it had a lot
of information about what happened on the deep water horizon rig..
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Impressive Work, Impressive Writing 9 Aug 2012
By S. Tschinkel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is as about multiple failures, not just that of BP. It is principally about the failure of BP leadership to properly understand it's own business. It is about a failure of leadership on behalf of corporate leaders at BP and management. It is also about the failure (or if not failure, the limitations) of government. And it is about how capitalism can fail us.

The author, to his credit, has not written some left wing/anti-capitalism polemic which is why this book is so important. It is thoughtful and has a snappy pace.

And, it is balanced (as much as a book can be when NOT A SINGLE BP executive allowed himself to be interviewed for the book.) The author mentions on several occasions that other petroleum & energy companies, such as Exxon (yes, Exxon, reformed since the Valdez spill in 1989) have corporate cultures which really do aim to minimize environmental impacts by placing real emphasis on best health & safety practices.

It is also important reading if one wishes to understand how difficult, how complex, how dangerous and how massive the pursuit of petroleum is in today's world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Steve Dietrich - Published on
Format: Hardcover
At one level this book is a great history of the events leading to the disaster in the Gulf; however, its real message is the increasing danger posed by quarterly results driven management management by mandate. Although not highlighted in the book, the way too close relationships forged by former politicians and political administrators is apparent from a deeper read.

The book documents a cultural fixation on short term earnings with little regard towards safety or long term profits. Operating, maintenance and quality control budgets were routinely subverted to the need for reportable earnings. On the north slope it meant neglect or the corrosion management and inspection programs and operating shortcuts in the oilfields. The highly predictable results were higher worker injury rates, pipeline failures and ultimately huge expenses to repair damage that could have been prevented.

Unfortunately today far too many senior managers are slaves to budgets that are driven from the top. It's not just the oil industry, across America you can see examples of how short term cost cutting is sacrificing long term interests. It's not just corporation but schools, governments, utilities and others have allowed the infrastructure to decay to the point of added costs and risks.

An interesting contrast to the culture of BP is our military. Young Marine officers are taught to listen to their non-commissioned officers. The Gunny (Sargent)is one of the most respected members of the Corps. Gen Colin Powell had a great presentation on management in which one of this rules was to believe the people in the field (rather than headquarters) in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It's about asking those down the line how to best achieve the stated goals and trusting their input. Unfortunately, in both business and government the Princes of Powerpoint often operate in an information and ethical vacuum.

One of the most distressing episodes of the book occurs when BP wants to gain political favor and appoints a panel to provide guidance. Rather than expertise the panel is stocked with semi-retired political insiders. One of the dangers to our democracy is use of pending administrative or legal actions to shakedown corporations for political contributions. Unfortunately BP is a posterchild for the dangers. I do not think it is an accident that a final settlement for the Gulf disaster has been kept open through this election cycle is an accident.

The book notes but does not emphasize that BP operates with different cultural values than other oil companies. More credit is due those who operate responsibly.

While BP was promoting itself as the green oil company it was acting in a highly irresponsible manner from the frozen Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately they were allowed to continue to profit from their actions which in a number of cases violated both administrative and criminal codes. The Texas refinery disaster was another entirely predictable event and the people on the ground were being thwarted in their efforts to correct the problems.

I'm very much pro private enterprise, but I believe that in order to survive our companies need to know that they are not too big or too powerful to have some execs do hard time for criminal violations. It's one of the major changes between the current financial crisis and that of 1990. In the prior era those who violated the law - Milken, Boesky, Keating and others did time and were forever tainted. Otherwise the worst case downside is the economic equivalent of a simple speeding ticket, pay the fine or attend traffic school and continue as is.

In addition to what's in the book, it was apparent from the Coast Guard hearings right after the Gulf event that the manager BP sent to the Gulf rig overruled the operating people and set in motion an entirely predictable disaster in an attempt to put a cap on budget and schedule problems.

As the book notes, the blowout preventer is much like an airbag in a car, designed to save some in the event of an accident. However, the event in the Gulf can hardly be called an accident, it was the predictable result of the headquarters mentality overruling the knowledge of those on the ground. In another cultural environment leadership would have asked, what can we safely do to expedite completion of the well. BP is working with its army of political insiders and attorneys to adjust the perception of reality, but the facts speak for themselves. The Obama administration sees this need as blood in the water, not for the country but for their political interests. As a result the case lingers.

Unless BP is taken out of the the business of drilling for oil and running refineries or their culture is changed further disasters are nearly assured. The force for that change can come from a real cultural change within BP or draconian actions by a government or governments which remove them from an operating role in the operations, leaving them as an investor partner.

In most of the cases noted in the book it is not a lack of regulations or knowledge that lead to the problems but rather a top down disregard for safety and the long term interests of BP's stockholders, partners and the public.

The book should be required reading for MBA courses in Corporate Policy and ethics .
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Book 27 Mar 2013
By TopCat19 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A very readable and informative book. I usually have two or three books going at any one time, and whichever one I pick up depends on my mood. However, from time to time I run across a book that really grabs my interest and I will put down whatever else I'm working on and focus on that one book. This is one of those books. I had already read one account of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and I was initially unsure if I wanted to read another. This is different in that the author goes back a number of years and examines other instances of BP cost-cutting and mismanagement (most notably their Alaska Pipeline management and the Texas City refinery explosion), so by the time the narrative arrives at the Deepwater Horizon affair (which actually comes somewhat late in the book) the outcome comes as no surprise. By going back and looking at other events, the author puts the Deepwater Horizon accident into the context of a continuing pattern of poor management at the highest levels of the company, where their short-sighted policies resulted in a cascade effect of poor decisions all the way down to the operational level. I don't consider myself a radical environmentalist or a "drill baby drill" oil at all cost person, but this book was a real eye-opener, and I was already somewhat familiar with the oil industry in general and several of the energy companies in particular. This is a very worthwhile read.
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