I was living in Port of Spain when the Deepwater Horizon oil platform ex-
ploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. British Petroleum (bp) had drilled
into the Macondo field under 5,000 feet of ocean water and through 13,000
feet of rock. Geologists and engineers had joined the heroic effort to find
oil in ever- more difficult and dangerous circumstances. On April 20, 2010,
gas surged up the well under high pressure. The blowout preventer failed,
and the blowout killed eleven workers (Konrad and Shroder 2011). My
Trini informants sympathized immediately with the dead, men largely for-
gotten in the frenzy of American reporting. Then, these experts criticized
bp: it operated in a slipshod, unprofessional manner, lining its well with
inferior cement. A Trinidadian firm manufactured better cement, and even
bptt—the local subsidiary of bp—would not have made such stupid, irre-
sponsible errors. Safety started to sound self- righteous. As the well bled oil
in its second month, I visited the office of bptt. Just to enter the building, I
had to endure a fifteen-minute safety video—mostly about where to flee in
case of fire. I wondered when the industry would look up from local flames
to see the spill everywhere. For the geologist Rick Bass, the Macondo well
served as a teachable moment. In a new foreword to Oil Notes—written
in the midst of the spill—he calls for “a truer accounting of the full costs
of dirty carbon” (Bass 2012, xix). At about that time, however, as the spill
entered its third month, my informants began to rekindle, in themselves,
Bass’s original enthusiasm for oil exploration. “Now do you get it?” they
asked me. British Petroleum had done nothing but perforate the caprock,
and geological pressure was producing huge volumes every day. This is
how it comes up, they explained. It seemed beautiful, natural, and inevi-
table. No one said as much, but the hemorrhage at the bottom of the sea
seemed to prove that oil should come up, not that it shouldn’t.
How does an anthropologist position himself in the midst of such harm
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