On April 20, I will be thinking about Blair Manuel and his three daughters. Blair was one of the 11 men killed two years in the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, a floating drilling platform 48 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.
We have gotten caught up with the millions of gallons of crude oil that washed up on our shores, the billions paid out in claims and the glorious BP ads telling the world what a great company it is, but we often overlook that men lost their lives on that rig.
April 20, 2010 was a momentous day for BP and the 126 riggers, contractors and support personnel on the rig. Blair and others were busy setting the cement seal at the wellhead, which was 5,000 feet below the water's surface.
Blair, 56, was known on the rigs as "Papa Bear." He had a huge smile and such warmth that he reminded everyone who knew him of Santa Claus. He loved his LSU Tigers and had both football and baseball season tickets. Even more than his beloved Tigers, he loved his daughters.
The father of Kelli, Jessica and Ashley wasn’t supposed to be on the rig that day. He was a "mud engineer," a nickname for the engineers who ensure the drilling fluid, also known as drilling mud, meets design specifications. Blair was set to leave at 5 p.m., but had to stay a little longer because of problems with the well tests.
The well did pass positive pressure tests, but there is evidence that it may not have passed crucial negative pressure tests. Significant pressure discrepancies were observed in at least two of these tests. These discrepancies are what may have kept Blair on the rig.
By 7 p.m. Blair had completed his work and was waiting for final clearance to leave. He talked on the phone with Kelli for about 40 minutes, asking her to help him pass the time. Blair had tickets to the LSU Tigers weekend baseball series against Ole Miss.
Less than three hours later, a methane gas bubble erupted from the wellhead, rocketed up the drill pipe's sheath and exploded on the deck of Deepwater Horizon. Blair and 10 others went missing.
Engineers who have studied the accident have questioned the method BP chose to seal the wellhead because if the cement around the casing pipe did not seal properly, gases could leak all the way to the wellhead, where only a single seal would serve as a barrier. Two barriers would have been better, but also more expensive.
That decision of dollars over safety probably cost Blair his life. His body was never recovered. At his grave site in Eunice, La., his daughters didn’t bury a casket. Instead they placed a memory box in the ground.
On April 20, they will gather and celebrate the life of their father. I, too, will remember the man whom I only got to know through his family while covering the largest man-made environmental disaster in our history.
Deepwater Horizon was a preventable accident. Profits were more important to the decision-makers than people. Papa Bear shouldn’t have died. I owe it to his daughters to ensure that we don’t forget all this.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News.
© Florida Voices