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Drowning in Oil: BP & the Reckless Pursuit of Profit Hardcover – November 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Steffy, business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, first began covering British Petroleum in 2005 after the deadly explosion at their Texas City refinery killed 15 people and injured 170 others. His investigations reveal a corporate culture of cost-cutting initiatives that put profits ahead of workers� lives and the environment, with repeated safely violations and an abysmal accident history. As we all watched helplessly for three months while the Deepwater Horizon oil spill leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, we were led to believe that the disaster could not have been foreseen. Steffy details how, in the context of BP�s record, the disaster was just part of a pattern of poor decision making in the relentless pursuit by BP to become the largest and most profitable oil company in the world. When the Deepwater Horizon well was finally killed for good in September 2010, the world barely took notice. BP CEO Tony Hayward, who never stood amid the charred rubble and burned flesh of his own decisions, has resigned, but Steffy sees few signs of major reform at the company. --David Siegfried

About the Author

Loren C. Steffy is the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle. He has been recognized by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Houston Press Club, and other societies and organizations. In addition, his work has been cited in publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post Online, and Texas Monthly, and he's made numerous appearances on CNBC, FOX News, MSNBC, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and Court TV. He lives in The Woodlands, Texas.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 1 edition (November 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071760814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071760812
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #899,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Loren Steffy is the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle. His column appears in on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and he writes a daily blog that discusses business topics. He has appeared on CNBC, Fox Business, the BBC and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Before joining the Chronicle in April 2004, Steffy was Dallas bureau chief and a senior writer for Bloomberg News in Dallas for 12 years. He covered a variety of business topics in Texas and across the country, including the collapse of Enron. Before joining Bloomberg, Steffy worked at the Dallas Times Herald, the Dallas Business Journal and the Arlington Daily News.

Since joining the Chronicle, Steffy's columns have received awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, press clubs of Dallas and Houston, the Associated Press Managing Editors and the Hearst Corporation. He received the Chronicle's Jesse Award for Commentator of the Year in 2006.

He won the Dallas Bar Association's Stephen H. Philbin Award for Excellence in Legal Reporting in 2001 and 2003. He also was a 2002 finalist for a Gerald R. Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism sponsored by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA.

Steffy's reporting on the collapse of Arthur Andersen was selected for the 2003 edition of the "Best Business Stories of the Year."

He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas A&M University and lives in The Woodlands, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When the British Petroleum (BP) drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, I was with the majority of Americans in being angry with BP. The arrogance of the CEO and the recounting of the poor safety record of the company was retold many times and the sight of the oil washing up on the beaches and the animals coated with it were sickening. I was happy when the Obama administration reached an agreement with BP whereby the company would put $20 billion into a fund to compensate the victims at all levels. Finally, I was disgusted when a member of the U. S. House (Joe Barton) felt the need to publicly apologize to BP for what he described as a $20 billion shakedown.
All those emotions were revisited when I read this book and another was added, depression at the realization of how callous BP is in their cost cutting measures with little regard for safety. Steffy does a superb job in revisiting the history of BP and how for decades it was effectively controlled and owned by the British government. I was puzzled by the British reaction to the disaster and how BP was defended in the British press, but after reading the history of the company I understood it. Still hated it, but at least I understood why BP is so dear to the British public heart.
I also learned why it was absurd for congressman Barton to apologize for the Obama administration's treatment of BP. The company was happy to set aside $20 billion into a fund administered by the federal government, this program deflected a lot of criticism from BP to the government and helped insulate the company against what could have been much higher costs.
Finally, it was fascinating to learn how BP is regarded by the other major oil companies, in a word "despised.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on February 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Drowning in Oil" provides excellent background on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, aka the Macondo well blowout. Author Loren Steffey's (Houston Chronicle business writer) most important contribution in this book is demonstrating that the tragedy was not the result of a single error or sloppiness by front-line personnel, but rather the accumulation of a series of top-level errors that took place over a period of years creating a corporate culture that had little concern for safety. The 'Deepwater Horizon' incident literally was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Deepwater Horizon floating drilling platform was a portable town for 126 people, suspended ten stories above the water's surface and a mile over the underwater well. The platform was also a ship capable of moving about 5 m.p.h. and also staying stably positioned over a wellhead. Its drilling derrick was 20 stories tall over the main deck; the entire apparatus cost about a half-billion dollars to have built (in Korea - but that's another story, about our on-going economic disaster) in 2001, and about half a million dollars/day to operate. Offshore wells cost about 5X that of land wells; BP had spent about $150 million up to that point on the well.

Steffey provides a good detailing of the chaos and terror of those first moments after the explosion - two massive explosions that immediately ended lighting and power, the roar of the escaping gas, destruction/debris everywhere and impeding walking, shrieking alarms, a hot, noisy and angry fire engulfing the derrick, and thick oil/sludge covering the water below that also began burning. The human toll (11 died) would have been higher but for numerous acts of heroism and personal strength (eg.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ted Middelberg on March 13, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
I was driving into the parking lot of a major oil company building west of Houston last week and looked up at the BP tower. Above it, lazily circling on the updrafts, were dozens of buzzards. What a symbolic image. At the fast-read level, this book provides a semi-objective look at the rise of BP under John Browne, how the seeds for the most recent safety catastrophe were sown in the culture and how his replacement, Tony Hayward, was not able to overcome that "Reckless Pursuit of Profit" culture.

The author, Loren Steffy, does a nice job of tapping into the multiple facets that, in combination, help us make sense of organizational behaviors. You will find wonderful anecdotes that link to each of the five core frames for gaining a comprehensive understanding of organizational actions: culture, politics, human resources, structure and systems.

At another level, this is a book about how the new CEO and the new head of the US operations of BP could not change the embedded culture because they did not understand all the elements of the system that supported their culture. I was reminded of a colleague, one with an extensive career in the petrochemical industry, who would say, "Culture eats change for lunch."

I found "Drowning in Oil" much more interesting when read as a primer on leadership-in-action. The scale of the events at BP make is all too easy to overlook the relevance for our own organizations, divisions, departments and teams. This book is not about one person making one bad decision. Rather, it is about the collective "What happens when we ..."
... measure results against singular and narrowly focused goals?
... deny or dismiss cause-effect relationships?
... dismiss inconvenient feedback from lower levels?
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