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Hardcover | $19.95 Trade | £13.95 | ISBN: 9780262015837 | 272 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 5 graphs| October 2010
Paperback | $10.95 Trade | £9.95 | ISBN: 9780262517294 | 272 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 5 graphs| February 2012

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Essential Info

Blowout in the Gulf

The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America


On April 20, 2010, the gigantic drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven crew members and causing a massive eruption of oil from BP's Macondo well. For months, oil gushed into the Gulf, spreading death and destruction. Americans watched real-time video of the huge column of oil and gas spewing from the obviously failed "blowout preventer." The evening news showed heart-rending images of pelicans, dolphins, and other Gulf wildlife covered in oil. What has been missing until now, though, is a book that tells the larger story of this disaster. In Blowout in the Gulf, energy experts William Freudenburg and Robert Gramling explain both the disaster and the decisions that led up to it. They note that—both in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere—we have been getting into increasingly dangerous waters over recent decades, with some in the industry cutting corners and with most federal regulators not even noticing. In the process, the actual owners of the oil—American taxpayers—have come to receive a lower fraction of the income from the oil than in almost any other nation on earth.

Freudenburg and Gramling argue that it is time for a new approach. BP's Oil Spill Response Plan was pure fantasy, claiming the company could handle the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every day, even though "cleaning up" an oil spill is essentially impossible. For the future, our emphasis needs to be on true prevention, and our risk-management policies need to be based on better understandings of humans as well as hardware.

Blowout in the Gulf weaves these failures, missteps, and bad decisions into a fascinating narrative that explains why this oil spill was a disaster waiting to happen—and how making better energy choices will help prevent others like it.

Freudenburg and Gramling are the authors of Oil in Troubled Waters: Perceptions, Politics, and the Battle over Offshore Drilling.

About the Authors

The late William R. Freudenburg was Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Robert Gramling is Professor of Sociology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


“In this intelligent and refreshingly readable--if inevitably depressing—expose, Freudenburg and Gramling, professors of environmental studies and sociology respectively, and longtime collaborators and observers of the oil industry, analyze the origins of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its aftermath. . . . Readers interested in energy crisis, peak oil, environmental and climate change issues will appreciate the straightforward analysis and will hope this important book finds its way into the hands of policy makers.”—Publishers Weekly

“Here is a full accounting of BP’s many previous accidents and violations—the company was the worst in the industry for its safety-sacrificing cost cutting. Freudenburg and Gramling also tell the story of the corporation’s first incarnation as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909 and how it became British Petroleum in 1954. Science, commerce, and the politics of oil are all newly illuminated here, accompanied by invaluable explanations of the risks of offshore drilling and a pragmatic look at the energy conundrums we now face.” —Booklist

“For readers interested in knowing more about events leading up to the spill, Blowout in the Gulf provides a solid description of what is now known. The authors examine the technology, geology, management decisions, and regulatory actions involved, and they also provide enough background for general readers to digest these specifics.” —Times Higher Education

“The authors make solid points about the way the U.S. government has allowed big oil companies to march into public waters, about how the much-admired interstate highway system contributed to a fateful boom in U.S. oil consumption and about the way Americans ravenously consume oil and gas today.”—The Washington Post

“For a comprehensive and systematic walk-through of how the BP spill played out before, during, and after the Macondo blowout, this book's a good pick. Exploring the technical side of things without sacrificing readability, the authors explain the disaster in its social, political, and scientific contexts.”—Green Life (Sierra Club)

“An excellent book for seminar courses on energy. Highly recommended.” — J. Tavakoli, Choice


"Blowout in the Gulf is a fast-paced, vivid account of the century-long rush to exploit that led to the BP disaster. As finite and remote oil and gas supplies dwindle, the risks, human and environmental, will only increase. As the age of oil approaches an end, the authors point us in other, sustainable, directions."
Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona and secretary of the Interior, board of directors, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

"A smashing book. Freudenburg and Gramling put the spill into the perspective of energy dependence, take us gracefully through technical details blurred by the popular press, grasp the local and national politics (offering some political detergents of their own along the way), and give the spill what will likely be its most masterful handling. The authors' years of work on oil drilling and the carbon economy get a dramatic payoff in this very timely book."
Charles Perrow, author of The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

"An extremely timely and important offering from two of the world's preeminent environmental scholars. Accessibly written for a wide audience, Blowout in the Gulf is both a brilliant analysis and an indictment of the energy-growth machine that gave us one of the signal environmental assaults of our time."
Lee Clarke, author of Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination