May 26, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 2Comment

On today’s Morning Edition, Russell Lewis reported on the memorial service held in Jackson, Mississippi for the 11 workers who died when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20th. Host David Greene noted that they’ve been called the “Forgotten 11,” because so much attention has been focused on the oil leak rather than the lost workers.

The following workers were killed in the explosion:

  • Jason Anderson, 35, Bay City, TX
  • Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37, Philadelphia, MS
  • Donald Clark, 49, Newellton, LA
  • Stephen Curtis, 39, Georgetown, LA
  • Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, Jonesville, LA
  • Karl Kleppinger, 38, Natchez, MS
  • Gordon Jones, 28, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Blair Manuel, 56, Eunice, LA
  • Dewey Revette, 48, State Line, MS
  • Shane Roshto, 22, Liberty, MS
  • Adam Weise, 24, Yorktown, TX

The Washington Post’s Lonnae O’Neal Parker wrote a moving article that not only describes some of these men but compares the national response and the individual families’ grief to the situation in West Virginia, where 29 coal miners were killed at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine:

But in a string of towns that ring the gulf, where men leave home for weeks at a time to work good jobs with good benefits miles offshore, the families of the victims struggle, and not just with grief. Loved ones are trying to come to terms not just with lives lost, and no bodies to recover, but with what feels like the country’s collective skipping from dead to gone. There was no national pause to honor the victims, like the one for the 29 West Virginia coal miners who died last month, though both miners and riggers work to fuel the country.

… The 11 victims came from 11 different towns and worked for two different companies: Transocean, which owned the rig, lost nine workers and will hold a memorial service for all 11 May 25 in Jackson, MS. M-I Swaco, the rig services company, lost two, Jones and Manuel.

… There’s no single community to help carry all that grief, as in coal mining towns.

I suspect the ongoing drama of the oil leak is the main reason these 11 rig workers are getting less national attention than the 29 miners. There are only so many broadcast minutes and column inches news organizations are willing to devote to the Gulf Coast, and the ever-evolving oil story is hogging them.

Less apparent is why President Obama didn’t attend the memorial service in Jackson. Is there a minimum number of workers that needs to die in order for the president to attend? Did the administration think it would somehow confuse or hinder the federal response to Gulf Coast emergency? It may be that the event organizers didn’t want the president there. But I think it would have been appropriate for President Obama to speak at the service and, as he did in West Virginia, remind us all that we rely on the fruits of these workers’ labors and should do everything in our power to protect them.

2 thoughts on “Remembering 11 Oil Rig Victims

  1. I really appreciate that you seem to be trying to be objective here and aren’t laying blame on the whole industry. As a person who has grown up around the oil industry and who has a close relative who is involved with operations safety at a company that is not BP, this whole tragedy has hit really close to home. It’s made me question some deeply held beliefs about what motivates Environmentalists of the crunchy and scientific varieties, and business of the benevolent and greedy varieties. I think it’s important to remember that big businesses and for that matter, the special interests that both parties respectably rail about are comprised of normal people and that for these people, big business puts food on the table and sends kids to college. These people get lost when we start talking about “big oil” as if it was some ominous monolithic concept.
    Heads need to roll at BP over this, but they need to roll for the right reasons…not because BP is a monolithic evil entity that loves to destroy nature and start wars and kill puppies etc. heads need to roll because BP betrayed the people who made it possible for deep water horizon to operate. Some pencil pusher, his supervisor, and the managers above him who were too busy planning their next political maneuver to care about real world implications sold them out for a monetary drop in the bucket. It approved plans that did not include robust safety standards. It did not, apparently, run simulations on it’s emergency plans–we can simulate fluid dynamics and pressure and basic physics. Judging by the crystals on the containment dome, BP did not. It cut cost corners putting lives at risk, putting a deep ocean habitat of which we know little at risk, and putting the entire fishing industry In the gulf at risk.
    Accidents happen, and this is new, intensely complicated high stakes technology that is on what could be called its maiden voyage. All the more reason to do everything possible to ensure that corners are not cut and every possible safety precaution is taken. I’m not convinced BP did.
    Lastly, I think those who are quick to call out the oil industry need to look in the mirror. Do you drive a car? Use plastic containers? Use electricity? That fuel comes from somewhere, and if it’s not a repressive dictatorship it’s increassingly difficult to access domestic sources.
    We the laypeople and our politicians knew exactly the risks involved in deep sea drilling. The politicians gave it the go ahead and the politicians represent us. We also knew the fail points of the available technology and exactly where it should have been regulated. It’s not like info on blowout preventers and their track record of flakiness is an industry secret. We apparently were delusional in thinking that something like this could never happen to us.
    Anyway, this is a national tragedy. My heart goes out to the people who died, and I’m hoping that they will be seen as the victims of this tragedy and not part of the cause. My heart also goes out to the people from BP and the other oil companies (from what I have heard the effort to curb the spill is industry wide) who are trying everything they can to stop this. Some of them are doing this not only because it is their job but because they are horrified at the environmental and human impact. Talk about a stressful thankless job.
    My heart also goes out to the fishermen and local volunteers who face financial hardship and are doing everything they can to mitigate the environmental impact.

  2. Obama doesn’t care. He was attending a fundraiser out here in California (see Tom Foreman’s article on He just doesn’t care. Sad to know that no one is in charge anymore in this country.

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