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Book Data

ISBN: 9781603583169
Year Added to Catalog: 2010
Book Format: Paperback
Dimensions: 5 3/8 x 8 3/8
Number of Pages: 248
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green
Release Date: October 31, 2010
Web Product ID: 806

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Disaster on the Horizon

High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout

by Bob Cavnar


The Deepwater Horizon Disaster in Book Form

There is certainly no shortage of books about the Deepwater Horizon disaster: at least eight by my count, and nine if you include the 300-page package of recommendations that the National Oil Spill Commission put out earlier this year (which you can buy on Amazon for about $40). Many of these books were published just in time for this week's first anniversary of the spill, and several of them managed to make it to my desk.

I'd like to say I read every last work of every one of them, but, well, they're all pretty long and I've both read and written quite a bit about the disaster. I wish I could say, "If you were going to read just one book on the oil spill, it should be X," but frankly each of these books offers pretty different takes on the same explosion and ensuing nightmare...

For more of an industry insider's take on what went wrong, I recommend Bob Cavnar's Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout. Cavnar, who blogs at the Daily Hurricane, spent more than 30 years in the oil and gas industry. His is the perspective of someone who understands the cultural and political elements of offshore drilling, but he also delivers the criticism it deserves. He is also able to maintain realism about both the problems of oil dependence and the logistical challenge of getting off petroleum any time soon.

Cavnar offers a thorough examination on the regulatory system that allowed this disaster to take place, and of the revolving door and close relationship between industry and the government that developed over the years. The portion of the book devoted to where we should go from here left me wanting a bit. Given that nothing has really changed in terms of policy and politics on the issue in the past year, A more detailed look at what should and can be changed would have added to the conversation.

Read the original review.


SciTech Book News - April 2011

Disaster on the Horizon

Cavnar, an experienced oil industry professional, presents an examination of the conditions that led up to the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill and a critical analysis of the disaster response. The volume presents a clear narrative of the events and provides insight into problems that were known before the disaster, the intransigence of BP and their subcontractor Transocean and the too little, too late actions of the US government in containing the spill and preventing wider damage. Of interest to general readers, this work cuts through the corporate and governmental public relations spin to provide an experience-based analysis of one of the most important events in American environmental history. (Annotation ©2011 Book News Inc. Portland, OR)

Read the original review.



Booklist Review

The Gulf economy and the U.S.’ energy policy are still reeling from the BP deepwater drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The worst part of the tragedy is that it never had to happen had the U.S. government and BP adhered to myriad policies and procedures already in place for deepwater oil-well drilling, according to Cavnar, who has 30 years of experience in the oil business, from field hand to chief executive. Cavnar brings insight and perspective to the risks, challenges, and shortcomings of oil drilling, U.S. energy policy, and environmental issues. He cites oil-company arrogance, lax government regulation, and the free-market politics of “drill, baby, drill” that have dominated decisions about the oil industry. Writing with the color and pacing of a thriller, Cavnar recalls the shock of the exploding well 5,000 feet below the surface, the struggles of workers to orient themselves to the danger and chaos, the fuel leak onto beaches and into wetlands that brought the attention of the world, and all the complicated engineering and politicking behind the spill and at play in future drilling. This is an important view of the oil-drilling business that readers don’t generally get to see. Photographs, diagrams, a glossary, and other resources make this book particularly helpful in understanding oil drilling. --Vanessa Bush

Book Review Wednesday: Stories from the Gulf

Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about the Gulf Coast.

Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout (By Bob Cavnar, $15, Chelsea Green, 2011): This author’s insider status sets his book apart — Cavnar is a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry and was even the victim of a gas-well fire back in 1981. He explains how exactly the regulatory systems and inner structures of oil companies like BP allowed the 2010 spill to occur. In addition, he delves into how the Obama administration could have improved its response. While serving as an indictment of the workings of the oil industry, the book also provides ways to avoid repeat performances, including lobbying reform, tougher regulations, and technology improvements.

Read the original review. 



Review: Disaster on the Horizon by Bob Cavnar

by Frank Kaminski for Energy Bulletin - March 11, 2011

It’s been nearly six months since BP Plc.’s runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused the largest unintentional offshore spill on record, was finally deemed “effectively dead.” And those six months have brought almost as many books on the disaster. The earliest, In Deep Water (The Experiment, Oct. 2010), was lead-authored by Natural Resources Defense Council Director Peter Lehner. It was joined a month later by three more books: Drowning in Oil by Houston Chronicle columnist Loren C. Steffy (McGraw-Hill); Blowout in the Gulf, co-authored by the late prominent environmentalist William Freudenburg (MIT Press); and Disaster on the Horizon by veteran oilman Bob Cavnar (Chelsea Green Publishing). Most recently, Bloomberg Press has released In Too Deep by Bloomberg reporters Stanley Reed and Alison Fitzgerald (Jan. 2011).

Having read only Cavnar’s Disaster on the Horizon, I have no idea which of these books is the most thorough or authoritative. Cavnar’s does have a particular ring of authenticity, and I suspect that’s because he’s the only one of the above authors to have spent a career in the oil and gas drilling business—including many years aboard rigs like the doomed Deepwater Horizon. But at the same time, I have a feeling that any book written this soon after the disaster is jumping the gun, since the spill’s aftereffects have barely begun to rear their ugly heads. It will be decades, if not lifetimes, before we know the full impact on the Gulf’s ecosystem, the well-being of all who eat or harvest its seafood, the health of those who cleaned its beaches in loathsome conditions or the economies of the Gulf states.

Cavnar clearly gets this; he writes in the book’s concluding chapter, “We will likely never know the true extent of the damage to the Gulf.” Thus, he doesn’t pretend to have any answers regarding the spill’s long-term impacts. Rather, he brings his expertise to bear on the matter of what caused the explosion and the simultaneous failure of every one of the Horizon’s safety systems on the night of April 20, 2010, leaving 11 dead and 17 injured, as well as setting off the unprecedented spill.

The Deepwater Horizon spill was a horrendous dose of reality, bringing into sharp focus just how risky deepwater drilling remains even with today’s technology. That’s the gist of Disaster on the Horizon. The book reveals how the tools of deepwater drilling have grown more sophisticated but not really more reliable—Cavnar likens drilling on the seafloor to driving a car from the back seat. And technologies for cleaning up spills have advanced barely at all, since companies haven't wanted to spend the money to make the necessary investments. Worst of all, as much as we may now want to simply shut down all American offshore and deepwater production, that isn’t an option. Close to one-third of our domestic energy supply comes from offshore, and 80 percent of that third is from deep water.

In assembling the Horizon’s story, Cavnar relies largely on testimony given during the federal investigation into the disaster. When the Transocean Ltd.-owned and BP-operated Horizon came to grief, it was drilling an exploratory well in the Macondo Prospect, nearly a mile underwater off the Louisiana coast. Dubbed the “well from hell,” this well had been embattled from the start. It had severely tested the skill and nerves of the rig’s crew with gas kicks, hole problems, “dangerous lost circulation zones” and other early warning signs of trouble. And then, at just before 10 p.m. on April 20, for reasons still unknown, the critical blowout preventer (BOP) failed to seal off the well when it started gushing oil, leading to the fateful events of that night.

The failed BOP was only one in a long list of mechanical failures that night. The deadman, which automatically shuts in the well if communication is lost between the BOP and the rig, also was inoperable. Gas sensors were inhibited, and emergency shutdowns for engines weren’t working. Even the general alarm and emergency disconnect systems were out; and phones and radios were dead. Eleven months since that terrible day, experts still don’t know why all of these systems broke down.

The overarching failure, in Cavnar’s view, was one of human error. Hindered by extreme time pressure and BP's overly convoluted management structure, the crew that constructed the well casing used shoddy and inappropriate materials, exercised poor judgment and proceeded too hurriedly. “Add in silenced alarms and disabled safety systems,” says Cavnar, “and the result was inevitable.”

Cavnar is scathing with regard to BP’s conduct before, during and after the spill. He surveys the company’s long history of poor safety and its aversion to transparency. He sneers at the daisy-shaped logo and “Beyond Petroleum” slogan, among other examples of cynical, token greenwashing. And he gives many examples of the company dragging its heels during the disaster as it withheld critical information, lied outright to the public and violated government orders (such as the EPA’s order to limit use of the highly toxic Corexit dispersant).

One of Cavnar’s best witticisms is the chapter title “Top Cap, Top Hat, Top Kill, Capping Stack: Making It Up as We Go Along.” It beautifully encapsulates BP’s ineffectualness over the course of these failed attempts to stop the gusher. In another nice witticism, Cavnar scorns ill-fated CEO Tony Hayward as a “one-man gaffe machine" for his ignorant remarks and other blunders. (Hayward’s demise was sealed when he unthinkingly snapped to reporters, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would love my life back.”)

While BP receives the brunt of Cavnar’s ire, the U.S. government and its current administration don’t come out so well either. Cavnar faults the government for its slow response and its “collusion” with BP. He says that the government couldn’t really be tough on BP because it needed the company’s expertise in order to manage the spill. The two parties came to develop a mutually beneficial, co-dependent relationship. Journalists and members of the public who tried to visit oiled beaches were turned away by security guards and local cops who answered to BP.

Disaster on the Horizon has a good deal to say about what can be learned from this disaster. One poignant lesson is the importance of maintaining old manual skills even in today’s era of high technology, should that technology catastrophically fail. Another is that dramatic improvements are needed in the design of BOPs and the procedures for their use. For one thing, BOPs need to be made more easily accessible by the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that are standard on rigs, in light of how difficult it was for them to intervene in the Horizon spill. Cavnar also calls for regulatory reform to ensure that rigs are maintained and tested periodically. He's encouraged by pending legislation that he says would go a long way toward effecting these reforms, in addition to lifting the present $75 million oil spill liability cap.

With 30 years of experience in oil and gas drilling—in the course of which he’s been a CEO multiple times over—Cavnar is clearly well-qualified to write this book. He’s even had a brush with death of his own while working in the field, surviving a pit explosion at a gas well in East Texas at the age of 28 (he effectively hooks readers into the book with his account of this incident in the preface). He walked away with no lingering injuries or disfigurement, but the experience instilled in him an appreciation for just how easily things can go wrong in a drilling operation. Regardless of how well his book compares on a scholarly level with others written so far about the Horizon spill, it surely has them all beat on the level of insider knowledge and detail.

Read the original review.

If you’re concerned about our water, better read these books

— Three recent books dealing with the realities of deep drilling for energy have much to teach all of us:

“In Too Deep,” BP and the Drilling Race that took it down, “Blowout in the Gulf,” The BP disaster ...the Future of Energy in America are both timely, scary and worth reading.

“Disaster on the Horizon” By Bob Cavnar, who started a 30-year career on oil rigs in Texas, Louisiana and off-shore, has a very revealing story of things gone wrong in the drilling game.

Often expressing his concerns in the Huffington Post blogs, his book will not draw raves among the drilling fraternity.

But if future water for Western Allegany and Garrett Counties concerns you, absorb his warnings about regulation of deep drilling.

Reorganization of Federal Minerals Management Service, whose staff was “shaken up and mostly replaced” after the BP mess, “created two new bureaucracies rather than fixing the one we had” and improvement of energy security is “badly needed and long overdue.”

Like the writer it is unlikely anyone seriously reviewing safety enforcement by combined efforts of state and federal efforts in Maryland and West Virginia will feel comfortable.

News from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where the drillers have been “fracking” a mile down into gas shale, is not good! Dirty water coming back up is being “treated” and turned loose into the river that feeds our Bay.

Until this process is perfected, and potable water is produced from these mile deep-holes, “Save the Bay” could be a cruel joke!

A few legislators and county officials, who know little more of the potential effects of this process, are telling the rest of our legislators that regulation can work. Once the water is injected with its chemical soup, brought back and ‘treated’ these oil outfits will be gone, and the citizens will foot the bill! Cavnar’s book is only $15. and tax! Learn now, or regret later!

Read the original review.

Three Books on the Gulf Oil Spill

By Steven Mufson

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 7:59 PM

Just six months after BP stopped the oil that had been flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, a gusher of books about the spill has begun to wash ashore. The first wave includes three very different approaches to the disaster that riveted the nation most of last summer.

How we interpret the spill is important. A 1969 spill off Santa Barbara soiled the shores, killed birds and helped give rise to the modern environmental movement. Exxon's tanker accident in Valdez, Alaska, 20 years later became another symbol of reckless disregard for the environment. What makes the BP oil spill not just shocking but also dispiriting is that it might have relatively little impact on ocean-drilling policy beyond a retooling of the regulatory bureaucracy and the imposition of a few more technological safeguards. The spill has had no effect on the world's appetite for oil, and drilling will continue because the best prospects are offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, off Africa and Brazil, in the Caspian Sea, and in the Arctic.

The recent spill received massive coverage. At the Associated Press alone, more than 40 reporters and editors were thrown into the fray; teams of reporters were mobilized at papers such as The Washington Post, the Times Picayune in New Orleans, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But even though the books under review present little if anything new, readers seeking overviews between two neat covers might find them useful...

Bob Cavnar brings an insider's view to "Disaster on the Horizon," but not one the industry will like. Cavnar has spent three decades, first on a rig and later as a chief executive, working for drilling companies in Texas, Louisiana and offshore areas. But he has a dim view of many industry practices and blogs about them for the Huffington Post.

Here, he focuses on the oil rig disaster itself and what caused it, constructing a narrative based on extensive testimony at hearings, newspaper accounts and his own experience. He makes a strong case that the spill was caused by human error. "An older engineer taught me, years ago, that wells actually talk to you," he writes. "In the hours leading up to the disaster, the Well from Hell was screaming at the crew that it was going to blow out, but nobody could understand the language it was speaking." And he notes that in deep water, "bad situations can escalate very quickly into catastrophes."

Cavnar ends on a cynical note about whether the government will respond constructively. The reorganization of the Minerals Management Service "created two new bureaucracies rather than fixing the one we had," he asserts. The moratorium on offshore drilling, he believes, was not long enough. And a policy to improve our energy security "is badly needed and long overdue."

Read the original review.

Huntington News - Dec. 27, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Oil Industry Insider Provides In-Depth Probe of Deepwater Horizon/BP Explosion in 'Disaster on the Horizon'
Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
On Dec. 26, 2010 the New York Times published an exhaustive, extremely long examination of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill -- the largest oil spill/environmental disaster in the nation's history. Link:
The Times concluded that: "... this was a disaster with two distinct parts — first a blowout, then the destruction of the Horizon. The second part, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, has escaped intense scrutiny, as if it were an inevitable casualty of the blowout. It was not. Nearly 400 feet long, the Horizon had formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout. It was equipped to divert surging oil and gas safely away from the rig. It had devices to quickly seal off a well blowout or to break free from it. It had systems to prevent gas from exploding and sophisticated alarms that would quickly warn the crew at the slightest trace of gas. The crew itself routinely practiced responding to alarms, fires and blowouts, and it was blessed with experienced leaders who clearly cared about safety. On paper, experts and investigators agree, the Deepwater Horizon should have weathered this blowout. This is the story of how and why it didn’t."
Oil industry veteran Bob Cavnar reached the same conclusion months ago and writes about it in a book published in October, "Disaster on the Horizon" (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 224 pages, $14.95). It's worth reading, along with the New York Times' account, which is "based on interviews with 21 Horizon crew members and on sworn testimony and written statements from nearly all of the other 94 people who escaped the rig. Their accounts, along with thousands of documents obtained by The New York Times describing the rig’s maintenance and operations, make it possible to finally piece together the Horizon’s last hours," according to The Times.
Cavnar's "Disaster on the Horizon" is one of the first comprehensive examinations of the causes of the disaster -- but it won't be the last, as the New York Times story shows. There's sure to be a federal report on the incident and I hope it won't whitewash the lack of industry and government preparedness that the April 20 explosion uncovered. I've already reviewed another book on the disaster, "Drowning in Oil" by Houston Chronicle business reporter Loren Steffy (link:
Cavnar, in the bluntest possible language, delivers a hard-hitting portrait of industry and government woefully unprepared to respond. A plain-spoken man who's risen from field hand to CEO, Cavnar witnessed the carelessness of the industry first hand when he was burned by a gas well fire in 1981. "Disaster on the Horizon" reveals explosive details: Collusion between BP and the government to hide the severity of the spill. The blowout preventer technology details -- why it failed. The behind-the-scenes story of the Obama administration's $20 billion deal with BP. How BP blamed others for their mistakes. BP's corner cutting on safety. The risky top kill procedure. Obama's failure to take advice from industry experts. "Disaster on the Horizon" provides a road map for ensuring this never happens again, if only those responsible will follow it -- something that is not inevitable due to the "not invented here" (NIH) mindset of bureaucrats: NIH means if they don't come up with the idea, it doesn't exist.
Cavnar slams his own industry for ignoring safety improvements and lobbying to end the moratorium on off-shore drilling as quickly as possible. His conclusion: Technology must be vastly improved before deep water drilling resumes. The industry had a chance to get started on this during the moratorium, but delayed and lobbied instead. Tougher regulations on deep water drilling should be enacted-in technology, disaster preparedness, and response operations. A comprehensive energy policy that creates a favorable environment for full-scale alternative energy development and conservation must be crafted.
Cavnar on the blowout of BP's Mississippi Canyon Block 252 well: "This is a tragedy that simply did not have to happen It was caused by bad design, bad judgment, hurried operations, and a convuluted management structure. Add in silenced alarms and disabled safety systems, and the result was inevitable." Above all, he adds near the end of his indispensible book: "I personally believe the cause was primarily human error; the managers on the rig simply failed to listen to the well as it became more and more dangerous." Listen to the well? Yes, Cavnar says that "In the oil and gas industry, many -- including me -- believe that wells can talk; you simply have to understand the language they're speaking and what they are saying."
In other words, the April 20 Deepwater Horizon/BP event was no accident, but a tragedy driven by the multiple mistakes -- a "perfect storm" of mistakes.
"Disaster on the Horizon" takes readers inside the disaster, exposing the decisions leading up to the blowout and the immediate aftermath. It includes personal accounts of the survivors, assembled from testimony during various investigations, as well as personal interviews with survivors, witnesses, and family. It also provides a layman's look at the industry, its technology, people, and risks. It deconstructs events and decisions made by BP, Transocean, and the US Government before and after the disaster, and the effects of those decisions, both good and bad. Cavnar explains what happened in the Gulf, explores how we arrived at deep water drilling in the first place and then charts a course for how to avoid these disasters in the future. The diagrams and illustrations explain the events much better than tose on the TV accounts I watched daily. "Disaster on the Horizon" is dedicated to the 11 men who died in the disaster. They're named and each is provided with a mini-biography.
In its comprehensive report on the disaster -- which I recommend to all readers of this review -- The Times comes to basically the same conclusion as Cavnar: "... crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all. At critical moments that night, members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response. The result, the interviews and records show, was paralysis. For nine long minutes, as the drilling crew battled the blowout and gas alarms eventually sounded on the bridge, no warning was given to the rest of the crew. For many, the first hint of crisis came in the form of a blast wave."

Read the original review at Huntington News.


Diving Deep

Disaster on the Horizon by Bob Cavnar explores the Gulf oil spill

Seven Days - November 24, 2010

By Kevin J. Kelley

“Phoom!” Former Texas oilman and part-time Vermonter Bob Cavnar begins his new book on the BP oil disaster with that approximation of the “impossible-to-describe sound” of an East Texas gas well exploding in his face.

The blast blew off Cavnar’s clothing and catapulted him headfirst into a ditch flooded with chemicals. That was the lucky part. Although his face was burned in the flash fire, “landing in the ditch had saved me from critical injury,” Cavnar writes in Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout, published by Vermont’s Chelsea Green.

That too-close encounter with death in 1981 “changed me forever,” he relates. For all its flaming theatrics, however, the accident wasn’t a full-on epiphany. Cavnar, then 28, had already seen several men injured or killed in the three years he’d been working on the frontlines of the oil and gas industry. He’d learned that unsafe practices and irresponsible decision making were routine.

Those experiences, along with his subsequent stints as an energy-company entrepreneur and executive, have given Cavnar deep insights into not only the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but also the federal policies and industry behavior that made it inevitable. In this book, he combines common sense with a sense of decency to produce a progressive analysis from an insider’s perspective.

On April 20, the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. President Barack Obama, who had just proposed opening vast stretches of coastline for oil drilling, said nothing about the unfolding disaster in his Earth Day speech two days later. Cavnar points out these sad ironies in his book and in a telephone interview from Colorado, where he’s now running a natural-gas production company.

“Obama, whom I support very strongly, has aided and abetted in the cover-up of the real damage of the spill,” Cavnar says in his native-Texan twang. The president had “overreacted” to the Bush administration’s complicity with the oil industry, Cavnar suggests. A purge of officials cozy with companies such as BP left the new administration without the expertise needed to respond effectively to what was happening in the Gulf: “There was no one in the White House who understood the depth of this disaster.”

As a result, Obama and his energy team became “100 percent dependent on BP” for staunching the spill and managing the cleanup, Cavnar adds. It was a political partnership, too. BP and the administration “had a common interest in getting the whole thing off of television as fast as they could.”

In this they have succeeded. The attention-deficient mainstream media today ignore a story that they covered saturation-style for much of the summer. Because the oil is now largely out of sight, it’s also out of mind for media.

But most of the oil that gushed from BP’s woebegone well has not been recovered, burned off or bombarded with toxic dispersants, Cavnar says. He cites a test BP conducted a few years ago to determine what might occur in the aftermath of a deepwater blowout. About 80 percent of the spilled oil remained well below the ocean surface, invisible to monitors.

The same phenomenon has occurred in the Gulf, he suggests: “Most of the oil is in deepwater columns that can’t be seen. Biologists say microbes will eventually degrade that oil, but it can be decades before that happens. It will be years until we understand the extent of the environmental damage. And we may never understand it.”

Cavnar himself understands the oil and gas industry well enough to have made a comfortable living from it. He worked for a succession of fossil-fuel companies, as well as Chase Manhattan Bank, before becoming president and CEO of a Houston firm that explores the Gulf for oil and gas reserves. In between jobs in 2005, he rented a house in Woodstock. Cavnar knew the town a bit because his hotel-consultant wife, Gracie, had done work for the Woodstock Inn & Resort.

The couple, who have three adult children, had planned to spend a couple of months in Vermont and similar amounts of time in New Hampshire and Maine, with a view toward choosing a future retirement site. “But we never got further than Woodstock,” Cavnar says. The Cavnars soon bought a home, in which Howard Dean is now an occasional dinner guest.

“We were full-fledged Texas Deaniacs” during the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, Cavnar recalls. The couple also supported the former Vermont governor in his successful bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “We became good friends with Howard,” Cavnar says.

It was Dean who helped put Cavnar in touch with Chelsea Green about a year ago. The idea then, remembers the publishing company’s president, Margo Baldwin, was for Cavnar to write a book about U.S. energy policy. Within a couple of weeks of the BP blowout, however, that topic had been replaced by the one examined in Disaster on the Horizon. Holed up in Houston, Cavnar hammered out a manuscript in six weeks.

As the first in-depth analysis of the causes and consequences of the spill, the book “should be selling extremely well,” Baldwin says. She acknowledges, though, that such success almost certainly will not ensue, because, inside the mass-media cocoon, it’s now as though the spill never happened. Chelsea Green is nonetheless carrying out a “guerrilla marketing” offensive in support of the book, Baldwin notes.

Cavnar will make himself available for book signings and talks, even though just last month he was appointed CEO of Luca Technologies, the Colorado natural-gas production company. He took the job partly because Luca conducts its operations in a sustainable way, Cavnar says. The company restores old wells and generates methane, which he describes as “the cleanest fossil fuel you can burn.” Methane can be the bridge, he suggests, “between the old and the new energy technologies.”

Cavnar also remains an all-star player in the oil and gas industry because “it’s in my blood,” he explains. “I feel like I can do it better and cleaner than anyone else.”

Then, too, oil and gas are “a necessary commodity,” he adds. “As much as people may hate it, everyone burns some amount of hydrocarbons.”

Read the original article on Seven Days' website.


Publisher's Weekly

November 23, 2010

Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout
Bob Cavnar, Chelsea Green, $14.95 trade paper (242p) ISBN 9781603583169
Cavnar, a veteran of the energy industry (including early work on oil rigs and pipeline construction), does a more-than-admirable job of clarifying deepwater drilling, specifically the corporate interests behind it and the mechanics and risks associated with it. Cavnar approach his subject like a muckraking reporter, pointing fingers and wringing hands and, though he doesn't spare BP, he argues that their hands were tied. Regarding their lowball estimates of oil spilled in the early days, Cavnar states that "liability is based on the amount of oil released into the environment"; though BP officials "probably had calculated the actual flow rate to within a few percent," releasing those figures would have meant owning up to a much greater liability. Especially chilling is Cavnar's assertion that other disasters will follow Deepwater Horizon, since 27% of domestic production comes from deepwater drilling and a 2009 study of subsea Blow Out Protectors showed a failure rate of 45%. Even if the US were to regulate or ban all offshore drilling, multinational companies would set up deepwater rigs near more lenient nations to sidestep the problem. Ultimately Cavnar issues a call to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels; only this, he suggest, will spare us ecological catastrophe. (Oct.)

Read the original review on Publisher's


Digital Journal

by Lynn Hermann - October 2010

New book reveals BP’s risky business, alter ego, and global power

A new book is hitting the shelves and gives readers an inside look at misdeeds, lack of leadership skills, the government-BP merger, and the ego of greed, all combined as the perfect recipe that led to this year’s deepwater disaster.

Disaster on the Horizon, written by Bob Cavnar, takes readers behind the scenes, explaining in detail how easily an environmental calamity such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon incident could occur when all parties involved are focused on earnings forecasts, profits and oil revenues.

Human health and the environment - life as we know it - take a back row seat to the debacle. Admission, of course, comes with a high price.

The book reveals explosive details involving the disaster, including BP’s inability to assume responsibility, the Obama administration and BP’s real $20 billion deal disguised as a clean-up fund, the untold risks of the top kill procedure, and collusion between the government and BP to conceal severity of the disaster.

With first-hand experience in the oil industry, himself being the miraculous survivor of a gas well fire in 1981, Cavnar takes readers into what will be, for many, uncharted territory regarding industry standards, oversight, or lack thereof, BP’s global influence dating back to its Anglo-Persian Oil Company days, and a combination of reckless and thoughtless acts, all fueled by greed.

Read the full review here.



October 2010

An Ocean Full of Oil
By David Swanson

Earlier this year, we put millions of barrels of oil, billions of cubic feet of gas, and 1.5 million gallons of chemical dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico. Of those dispersants, designed for use on the surface, 800,000 gallons were sprayed directly into the oil gusher on the dark ocean floor, potentially multiplying the damage while keeping it out of sight. Already people are dying.

Frontline on PBS is now airing The Spill, which looks at the long record of environmental abuse by the primary corporation responsible, BP. Alliance for Justice is screening Crude Justice which looks at the damage already done to people’s lives. And for those who like to learn about topics the old fashioned way, through careful and thoughtful analysis in the written word, Bob Cavnar has just published “Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout.”

Cavnar calls this “the largest environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States,” and argues quite convincingly that it “simply did not have to happen. It was caused by bad design, bad judgment, hurried operations, and a convoluted management structure. Add in silenced alarms and disabled safety systems, and the result was inevitable.”

Oil gushed from the sea floor for 87 days at a rate the government, after lying while the news was hot, now admits reached 80,000 barrels per day, not counting the natural gas. Giant subsurface plumes, also lied about and now admitted to, may be reaching the currents that will carry oil beyond the Gulf of Mexico. And with virtually none of the problems meticulously documented in Cavnar’s book solved, President Obama has lifted the short-lived moratorium. We’re back drilling in deep water, and cries of “drill, baby, drill” ooze out of the Tea Party just as they did prior to the spreading but nearly forgotten catastrophe.

A 2009 study commissioned by Transocean found 11 cases of blowouts in deepwater wells in which a blowout preventer (a valve to cut off the flow, known as a BOP) had to be activated. In five of the 11 cases, the BOP failed to stop the oil from “spilling” into the water. A 2004 study commissioned by the Minerals Management Service found that only seven of 14 newly built deepwater rigs even tested their BOP’s ability to shear drill pipe. Of the seven tested, four failed. That same year, Transocean modified the Horizon to allow faster tests but higher risk, and BP agreed to pay for additional downtime if the BOP had to later be pulled for repairs. In June of this year a technician told CNN he’d detected a hydraulic leak months before the blowout, something BP has now admitted to under oath. In fact, BP and Transocean knew about the faults in the BOP as early as April 21 and 22.


Read the full review here.

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by Mark Floegel - October 22, 2010

I was in Venice, Louisiana in late April and early May of this year, waiting for the first oil from the blowout of BP’s Macondo well to come ashore. Journalists from across the globe, politicians, fishermen, government bureaucrats, environmentalists, BP reps all milled about in a chaotic scrum. No one had good information. It seemed that once a rumor had passed through the crowd twice, it became accepted as fact.

I wish I’d had Bob Cavnar’s phone number then.

Mr. Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon, published this month by Chelsea Green. A 30-year veteran of the oil industry, who’s lived the industry from the oil patch to the boardroom, Mr. Cavnar writes about the BP blowout, oil technology, oil politics and energy policy in clear-eyed prose intelligible to those who only consume, rather than produce, petroleum products.

Who’s to blame? Anyone as blunt as Mr. Cavnar was not going to get into the rooms where the decisions were made, but his eye for details outsiders would miss and what he gleans from public sources point in ominous directions, such as:

- Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon, disabled or disconnected many of the alarms and emergency shutoff switches on the rig. Had those devices remained untampered, they might have shut down the engine that exploded when it encountered gas from the well. Alarms might have saved the lives of some of the 11 crewmembers that died. (Ironically, Transocean executives were aboard the rig that night to celebrate seven years of safe operations.)

- The US Coast Guard, whose marine safety mission has been supplanted by drug interdiction and homeland security, no longer had authority to oversee firefighting operations on the burning rig. No fire marshal was appointed to oversee workboats that poured water into the upper decks of the Deepwater Horizon, flooding them and likely the cause of the rig’s sinking.

- The Bush/Cheney administration, which spent eight years undermining the nation’s regulatory system, putting industry hacks in charge of “monitoring” their own interests and spinning the revolving door between government and corporate America at record speeds.

- The Obama administration, which took the blame for many Bush administration sins, but for its own part was too eager for the crisis to be over and the oil magically “gone,” too willing to let itself be gulled by BP, letting the oil company withhold crucial information and manipulate the technical end of the response for its own interests.

- BP, which dodged and weaved from Day One, always more concerned with limiting corporate liability that with limiting the size of the spill, protecting the Gulf of Mexico environment or playing straight with the federal government and the public. Mr. Cavnar asks why the drilling of relief wells was inexplicably halted for two months, that the much lauded “static kill” probably did not kill the well and asserts BP managed to outfox the feds by getting the well closed without ever taking an accurate measurement of the flow of oil. Since fines are based on the number of barrels spilled, no measurement means BP lawyers will hold the high ground when the court battle begins. (As marine conservationist Rick Steiner might say, “Lawyers yet unborn will be litigating this case.”)

I don’t agree with everything Bob Cavnar writes. Let’s not get crazy; he’s an oilman and I work for Greenpeace. But if his kind of honesty were better represented in the oil industry, our nation would have had a sensible energy policy decades ago. He also doesn’t forget (as we should not) that 11 men lost their lives on April 20, sacrificed to greed and arrogance. Some of that came from their industry; some from us, with our desire for cheap fuel without wanting to think of the danger and consequences that come with it.

Read the original piece at


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