The Forgotten Dead

I was thinking today, what must the families of the 11 people killed on the Deepwater Horizon be thinking?  Their losses are never mentioned in any news reports I see.  Its all about getting oil on the ducks.

Sure, I am pissed off about the enormous damage to the Gulf Coast as well.  But I got to thinking, were I the engineer that made the wrong risk/safety decisions here, what would I feel most guilty about?  I was put in that position for years in a refinery, constantly asked, "is this safe" or "can we keep running" or "do we need to shut down" or "is that vibration a problem?"  These are difficult, because in the real-world of engineering, things are not ever perfectly safe.  But never-the-less, if I had made the wrong call here, I think I would be feeling a lot worse about the 11 dead people than a number of dead fish and birds.  Perhaps my priorities are out of whack with the times.

By the way, TJIC has a great post on risk and cost in the real world of engineering.  I agree with his thoughts 100% from my experience as a troubleshooter / engineer in the field making just these decisions.

Look, we all trade off safety in order to save time and expense.

Do you put on your seat belt when moving your car from one point in the driveway to another?

Do you buy the car that costs twice as much, because it's got a 1% increase in crash survivability?

Did you pay $40k to get industrial fire sprinklers installed in your house?

Do you have a home defibrillation machine?

There is nothing wrong, in the abstract, with trading off safety in order to save time and expense.

The question is whether BP did this to a level that constitutes "gross negligence".


  1. Evil Red Scandi:

    This goes to The Core Delusion that is shared by both Progressives and Conservatives - that if we just pass enough laws, we can create a world in which nothing bad ever happens.

  2. jsalvati:

    Your priorities here are poorly thought out; you're suffering from scale insensitivity. $20 billion sounds like it is probably the lower end of the cost of the oil spill in terms of clean up and lost fishing etc. . Human lives are usually valued at around $2 million, but lets call it $5 million. $20,000 million/($5 million * 11) ~= 350, so the size of the natural disaster is about 350 times larger than the size of the human disaster.

  3. jsalvati:

    Not to say that the spill proves that we should be spending a lot more on safety; sometimes you're unlucky.

  4. Evil Red Scandi:

    That, and I think it's funny that birds killed by oil spills are the martyred victims of corporate greed, while birds killed by windmills are stupid creatures that got in the way of our giant spinning blades.

  5. KipEsquire:

    As my Torts professor said: Make an objective, rational cost-benefit decision and you're a shrewd businessman. Put it in an email, and you're a mass murderer.

    See generally, "Ford Corvair"

  6. KipEsquire:

    Chevy Corvair, sorry...

  7. BCM:

    You are right on with your priorities. It is sad that some people lost their jobs and that some birds will get sick etc., but try explaining to the daughter of a worker killed at a rig why it is that she has to grow up without a Dad. Though I generally agree with Jsalvati's second comment, his priorties and calculations are out of wack in his 1st comment. Human life should always have more value than whatever economic goal or project is being discussed, whether that goal/project is a "clean up" operation or something completely different, like the development of a new vehicle. I understand there are trade offs in life and that there is no way to completely eliminate risk, but Jsalvati's strict utilitarian approach to human life and cost/benefit analaysis is the sort of thinking that guided Hitler, Stalin, and other mass murderers in many of their "great" projects.

  8. N:

    I don't deny that telling a child their father died is horrible and wrenching. But so is telling a few thousand that daddy lost his job, that they have to move because they can't pay the rent/mortgage, or that lunch is a luxury now. Those 11 are not the only human costs of this.

  9. LoneSnark:

    I agree, there are more human costs here. But these other human's are not really out anything but time, since they can and will be compensated for their losses. Given this, their losses are not a tragedy, merely the inconvenience that comes from living in a world with other people. The 11 dead, and what has happened to the people of BP is the only real tragedy. A large bunch of dead animals is not a tragedy, it is just dinner on a larger scale.

  10. SecondGuesser:

    I just googled news for "deepwater horizon". The first four articles that came up mentioned the 11 dead.

  11. Rick C:

    " It is sad that some people lost their jobs and that some birds will get sick etc., but try explaining to the daughter of a worker killed at a rig why it is that she has to grow up without a Dad. "

    Note, however, that the parents of two of the eleven dead both insisted that the drilling moratorium is a bad idea.