Monday, 27 September 2010

Unsung Heroes

BP has finally sealed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a time to celebrate and salute the unsung heroes who have been working diligently for months to tackle one of the most urgent and difficult engineering challenges of our time. We all hope that the ecosystem of the gulf can recover without lasting damage.

‘Macondo Prospect’ is now the most infamous well in history. The well’s formal reference is Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (MC252). The code name allows the oil company to refer to the well in the early stages without disclosing the exact location. Whoever selected this code word must be regretting their choice. The name ‘Macondo’ is the name of the cursed town in the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The fictitious town of Macondo is frequented by unusual and extraordinary events that involve the generations of the Buendía family, who are unable or unwilling to escape their periodic (mostly) self-inflicted misfortunes.

How avoidable and self-inflicted this disaster was, investigations will discover. The high profile characters involved in this real-life story have had mixed fortunes. The CEO of BP has lost his job. This was always likely, but speaking out, whilst the crisis was still unfolding, to plea for his life back, ensured that he would be axed. Barack Obama fared better. His strong demands for action were what the public wanted to hear. We forget that neither Tony Hayward nor the US President have solved this crisis.

The heroes were the engineers. The water is 5,000 feet deep (1,500m). This is too deep for divers to operate. The workers are the submersibles and their robotic arms. The engineers have had to devise new methods and design and build new equipment all in the space of weeks. They do not appear on the cover of Newsweek or fronting press conferences. They have worked long hours and succeeded to deliver extraordinary solutions to an unusual event. I salute the unsung heroes – the engineers.

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