Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

New Film Shows Lives Still Scarred By BP Oil Spill

We’re coming up on four years since the worst accidental oil spill in history: the blowout at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Over two hundred million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf. Eleven men were killed in the blast, all from a tight-knit group of rig workers. A film premiering at the SXSW Film Festival this week focuses on the effects of the disaster on the survivors and their families, adding a human dimension missing from much of the coverage of the spill. It’s called ‘The Great Invisible.’

If you want to learn more about what exactly went wrong on the rig, and what could have been done to prevent it, this film will leave you wondering. Its subjects talk about staff reductions and corners being cut on the rig, but specifics are sparse — it doesn’t really explain what went wrong that day, or even what a “blowout” is. But where ‘The Great Invisible’ shines is by casting light on the human victims of the industrial disaster.

Director Margaret Brown said at a Q&A after the film’s first screening in Austin that she “wanted to use people, not graphs” to tell the story. “We lost the opportunity to talk about the lessons of the disaster because of political pressure.” (Brown’s representatives declined an interview request from StateImpact Texas to discuss the film.)

Those at the screening got to hear in person from some of those voices, like Keith Jones, the father of Gordon Jones, a rig worker killed in the explosion. The film shows haunting footage of Jones attending his son’s birthday party days before heading to the Deepwater Horizon, and the birth of his second son three weeks after the incident. Jones had arrived on the rig just the day before.

Keith Jones has been an outspoken critic of how BP and the other companies — like TransOcean and Halliburton — handled things both before and after the disaster.

“Don’t buy BP’s bullshit about how everything’s great,” Jones said at the screening. “They’re doing everything in their huge power to back out of a settlement they helped write. It’s shameful. And these people are without shame.”

“Nobody from BP ever said to any member of my family, ‘We’re sorry Gordon died on our rig.’ They didn’t care because they were not going to get paid for that,” Jones said, getting emotional.

The wife of chief mechanic Douglas Harold Brown, who is still struggling to get help from BP to pay for his medical treatment, said that the disaster opened up her eyes about the human toll of bad corporate behavior. “We are really real people, going through real things even four years later,” she said.

Sara Stone, the wife of survivor Stephen Stone, a roustabout on the rig, stood on the stage after the film, her legs shaking as she spoke, which she said was a symptom of PTSD. “Anything shaky or risky and this happens,” Stone said. “It happened at the airport on the way here.”

“It’s all about money,” Stone said  “And I don’t think it’s fair to put a price on anybody. It’s been embarrassing for me to realize. I thought I was a great citizen and supported my country. But I’d like to see more people stand up for what’s right, and not see these big companies get away with hurting people and pocketing profits.”

BP has been actively fighting the claims process it helped set up to pay for damages from the spill. Just this week, the federal government announced that it will let BP start bidding to drill on federal land and in federal waters.


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