The tears streaming down my cheeks do not do justice to the raw emotion I’m experiencing as I silently leave the theater. I’m not alone. Heads are bowed, eyes are red and the mood is very somber.
I’m in Houston, Texas, for the public premiere of Deepwater Horizon, the Hollywood dramatization of the tragic events that occured in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago. The theater is packed and the mood is light. I myself am wondering what kind of “creative license” Hollywood is going to apply to this story. What ridiculous plot lines are they going to present the audience with in order to appeal to a main stream audience? My skepticism grows through the opening scenes of the movie, as the newly introduced characters have a perfectly coherent conversation in the helicopter en route to the rig, without the aid of headphones. Anyone who has flown out to an offshore installation knows that choppers are loud and conversation is stinted at best. I was keeping a list of the bad analogies and incorrect assertions. Oil coming from dinosaurs and a dinosaur tooth found in the cuttings to name just a few. Then the film sucked me in.
It dawned on me that the little inaccuracies are insignificant. The real story was that the culture and behaviors depicted in the film can lead to unimaginable pain and suffering. I don’t want to debate whether the film is an accurate depiction of what actually happened. I wasn’t there, it’s not for me to say. But I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that when corners are cut to save costs and safety is ignored, bad things happen. If you are not familiar with the industry’s worst disaster, Pipa Alpha, you should be. 167 people died that day in 1988 and while there were many causes, culture was number one. History repeated itself 22 years later and it will again unless we all internalize this message. Unless we all feel how real the implications of our behaviors and decisions are.
This film does exactly that. If you work in the industry, you should watch this movie. If you drive a car, you should watch this movie. If you’ve benefited at all from the oil and gas industry (that’s you, you and yes, you), then you should watch this movie. But most of all, if you have any decision making authority in any industry that puts people in situations that could be harmful, you need to watch this movie. Then you need to ask yourself, what can I do to make sure this never happens again.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of the eleven souls that lost their lives that day. May their memory live on in the safety cultures, systems and processes inspired by their deaths.