Courtroom wrangling continues over who is legally culpable for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but history is already making its own judgments. In the new book “Drilling Down, the Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma,” co-written by Dr. Tad Patzek, the disaster is examined through the lens of a culture that seeks out oil from ever more remote locations. Patzek is Chair of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of Petroleum and Geosystems engineering.
He recently spoke with StateImpact Texas’s Mose Buchele about his book and the deepwater horizon oil spill.
Q: When you go back and do the post mortem on this whole thing, do you see a point of no return, where things had gone so far in the wrong direction that disaster was inevitable?
A: Well, I have to be careful, because this is all under litigation, but to me it was the negative pressure test. And in fact, there wasn’t a point of no return until about an hour or so before the explosion happened. So, in fact, there was plenty of time to react one way or another, if the signals from the well were interpreted correctly.
Q: In this book, you get into not just this specific incident but also our national discourse about fossil fuel.
A: Yes, so the book, in fact, used the Macondo well accident as a stage prop. Essentially it’s a discussion about power. You know, we all talk about energy, but in reality we always mean energy per unit-time, which is power. So our instinct, our reflex, is to say well, if we feel that we do not have access to enough power, we should immediately seek access to more power, at any cost. But the truth of the matter is a little more complicated. Of course we need to have power, because as I, among others, show, power is what drives a modern society, period. But do we need as much power as is used by an average American today? No, we don’t. In fact, we cut this use by more or less fifty percent, we’d be at the level of Western Europe. So I think we need to change the way we look at power, and kind of power down a little bit.
Q: You need to change people’s practices, right, maybe through legistlation or other means? It sounds like it’d be quite a hard undertaking.
A: Well, I think I’ve given up on legislation. I think that changes come from within. The question that people need to ask themselves is, am I happier through getting more power every day? Or would I be a little more happy by perhaps getting less power but having more time to talk to my family, to have a longer meal, and just in general live.