What happens when what can happen happens?
The offshore oil and gas industry deals constantly with what can happen. Nearly all the time, it does so successfully.
The exception is what changes everything.
What can happen in offshore oil and gas work is not pretty: explosions, fires, spills, injuries, deaths.
In fact, the ugly potential of what can happen drives the political debate over offshore leasing and drilling.
Opponents of these activities cite the mere potential for bad outcomes as sufficient reason not to perform the activities at all.
Supporters of offshore oil and gas work cite the resulting energy supplies, incomes, and tax payments but know better than to promise that what can happen won’t.
With tragic results, what can happen did happen on the night of Apr. 20 in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Transocean Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible exploded and caught fire after drilling an apparent discovery well for BP on Mississippi Canyon Block 252.
Of 156 persons on board at the time of the accident, 145 escaped the rig, some with serious injuries. The other 11 were missing at this writing 3 days after the accident.
On Apr. 22, a second explosion rocked the burning semi, which then sank.
On Apr. 23, the Coast Guard, still searching for the missing workers, reported that no crude oil was entering water from the area of the wellhead.
The rest of what happened up to that point was predictable, its necessity heart-breaking.
Spill-control vessels and crews patrolled the scene of the accident, ready if needed.
BP, Transocean, and the Coast Guard started trying to determine what went wrong.
Families of the missing workers huddled on land, praying for miracles.
Lawyers filed lawsuits. President Obama called response to the disaster “a number one priority.” Environmental groups said they told everyone so.
Meanwhile, work continued on 4,000 platforms and 55 rigs in the gulf, pretty much as usual.
Of course, workers on facilities where what can happen didn’t probably knew that their industry on Apr. 20 had changed in ways no one yet could predict.
(Online Apr. 23, 2010; author’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)