Published: October 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

Gulf Oil Spill

Is Another Deepwater Disaster Inevitable?

The largest U.S. oil discoveries in decades lie in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico—one of the most dangerous places to drill on the planet.

By Joel K. Bourne, Jr.
Photograph by Joel Sartore

On a blistering June day in Houma, Louisiana, the local offices of BP—now the Deepwater Horizon Incident Command Center—were swarming with serious men and women in brightly colored vests. Top BP managers and their consultants wore white, the logistics team wore orange, federal and state environmental officials wore blue. Reporters wore purple vests so their handlers could keep track of them. On the walls of the largest "war room," huge video screens flashed spill maps and response-vessel locations. Now and then one screen showed a World Cup soccer match.

Mark Ploen, the silver-haired deputy incident commander, wore a white vest. A 30-year veteran of oil spill wars, Ploen, a consultant, has helped clean up disasters around the world, from Alaska to the Niger Delta. He now found himself surrounded by men he'd worked with on the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska two decades earlier. "It's like a high school reunion," he quipped.

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