Over the last several weeks, I've read countless articles which suggest that deep water oil exploration is matched only by outer space exploration in terms of complexity and difficulty. This may be so; yet, like so many other areas of complex undertakings (doctors have even gone so far as to call for their own court system, claiming that medical malpractice cases are just too complex for everyday citizens to comprehend), it seems that the failures that led to the Deepwater Horizon were not complex at all.

There is no doubt that the thought processes and strategies that give one confidence in drilling for oil 20,000 feet below a sea bed that is 5,000 feet below the water's surface requires amazing feats of intellectual rigor. Yet, these sorts of complex matters are not what caused the well to blow out. According to the mass of media reports, the well blew because of a series of relatively simple conscious decisions made to save time: Don't use a casing pipe with riser, that takes too much time. Don't fully circulate the mud from the bottom of the well, that takes too much time. Don't conduct a cement bond log test, that takes too much time.

At the end of the day, we will discover that this rig exploded, not due to incalculable risks associated with performing great feats at amazing depths, but due to calculable risks associated with commonplace decisions. This tends to be the case in the most complex of medical malpractice or financial fraud cases, and this will be the situation with the Deepwater Horizon.


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