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‘The Great Invisible,’ on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

‘The Great Invisible,’ on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill thumbnail

“The Great Invisible,” Margaret Brown’s quietly infuriating documentary film about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, includes depressing information that many would probably be happier not knowing.

Since the catastrophe, which began with an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to a discharge of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the company that operated the rig, BP, has cleaned up less than one-third of the spill, according to the film. More than four years later, Congress has yet to pass any safety legislation for the petroleum industry. Of the multibillion-dollar profits made by BP over a recent three-year period, the film says, less than a tenth of 1 percent was spent on safety. After a brief moratorium on offshore drilling, the ban was lifted, and there are now more rigs in the Gulf of Mexico than before the disaster.

The film, for which BP executives declined to be interviewed, is not a thunderous, finger-pointing exposé of corporate greed and mismanagement. Nor is it a dry, fact-filled history of the disaster or an analysis of the technology of oil drilling. The 92-minute movie also leaves it for others to explore the spill’s ecological and environmental impact. There are a few obligatory images of sea birds coated with oil and aerial shots of oil slicks destined for the Gulf Coast.

The principal focus is on the everyday people whose lives were disrupted. A similar emphasis on human beings informed Ms. Brown’s acclaimed 2008 documentary, “The Order of Myths,” an exploration of Mardi Gras culture in Mobile, Ala.

The new film’s ground-level perspective includes interviews with several people who received minimal compensation from the $20 billion trust fund established to settle claims from the spill. The mistrustful attitude of these tough, independent workers near the bottom of the economic ladder toward those near the top is the underlying theme here. The glaring contrast between grim oyster shuckers and idled fishermen and Houston executives crowing about the fundamental importance of oil to the economy suggests a tragic disconnect between society’s haves and have-nots.

Caught in the middle are people like Douglas Harold Brown, the Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic, who was aboard the rig when the explosion took place. Mr. Brown delivers a moment-by-moment account of the disaster, while the screen shows the inferno of billowing smoke and flames. Mr. Brown details how he and the workers on the rig were pressured to eliminate jobs to save money. “Everybody knew” the dangers, he says. “It makes me feel guilty, because I played along. I knew what I was doing was wrong.” He links that failure to a macho culture in the oil business that glorifies risk-taking.

One of the most revealing scenes shows the chief executives of top oil companies answering questions before Congress and sounding like guilty, overgrown boys facing a grade school principal after being caught cheating. In another scene, a smug industry honcho gloatingly surmises that the American thirst for oil is so enormous that if the supply were cut off, the economy would collapse within hours.

The film’s portrayal of the trust fund, administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, suggests that money was mismanaged and cut off prematurely. Many who were promised restitution received one or two small checks, then nothing. Mr. Feinberg, who comes across as highhanded and grandiose, acknowledges that he “overpromised” prompt delivery of relief.

Amid the cynicism, evasion and denial, a local hero stands out. Roosevelt Harris, a volunteer at a food pantry in Bayou La Batre, billed as Alabama’s seafood capital, advises the embittered and despairing workers who lost their jobs and homes to file claims. Such is their lack of faith in the system that they would rather not bother.

New York Times    

10 Comments on "‘The Great Invisible,’ on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill"

  1. Kenz300 on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 11:38 am 

    Fossil fuels have a huge environmental cost.

    If that cost was added in to the price of oil or coal it would be much more expensive.

    The price of alternative energy sources keeps dropping every year. They are cleaner and better for the environment.

    Climate Change is real….. It is time to speed up the transition to safer cleaner and cheaper alternative energy sources.


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  2. Preston Sturges on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 1:08 pm 

    I’d wager most conservatives still believe “Obama has banned drilling in the Gulf.” And of course the damage was all his fault anyway because he banned the nonexistent ghost fleet of oil skimmers.

  3. Davy on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 1:26 pm 

    Saw on Bloomberg today there is a bathtub ring of oil residue on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico the size of Rhode Island. On my iPhone so can’t copy link.

  4. Preston Sturges on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 2:12 pm 

    Natural oil seeps can create big tar boulders on the ocean floor that support their own communities of organisms. It’s not that it disappears, But the Deepwater Horizon residue will be mixed with Corex, so who knows what that will do to the breakdown process?

    Here’s a story about 35,000 year old asphalt volcanoes off Santa Barbara that are teeming with life.

  5. Harquebus on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 4:41 pm 

    I am going to laugh my A off when kenz300 finally realizes the con that renewable energy is.

  6. Davy on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 5:07 pm 

    Kenny Boy is a trooper for a worthy cause but he needs to do some reality testing.

  7. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 9:40 pm 

    Preston Sturges
    “Here’s a story about 35,000 year old asphalt volcanoes off Santa Barbara that are teeming with life.”
    What does that have to do with BP’s crimes?
    What are you trying to suggest?

  8. Kenz300 on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 11:34 pm 

    Investments in alternative energy sources are growing around the world.

    Competition to fossil fuels…….. the fossil fuel industry hates that.


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  9. Kenz300 on Wed, 29th Oct 2014 11:38 pm 

    Climate Change is real……. deal with it……

    The transition to safer, cleaner and cheaper alternative energy sources continues to grow.


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  10. Preston Sturges on Thu, 30th Oct 2014 12:28 am 

    Well the Corexit probably did a lot more harm than good. Oil sinking to the sea floor or floating on the surface is probably better than dispersing it through the entire Gulf. Even if that oil on the sea floor was 20 feet thick, it would be a shame to hurt the invertebrates and bottom fish, but they are going to handle it a lot better than permanently contaminating the bird rookeries.

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