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How the BP Oil Spill is a Prototype for Future Disasters

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Ideum/flickr
Anchor-handling tugboats battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in 2010.

From Texas Standard

As we look back on the last five years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, some big questions linger: What will the next disaster be, and can we prepare for it?

A lot of talk suggests that another catastrophe is likely, due to a lack of reforms to the industry overall since the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Many believe we are in the same position as we were before. But Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach says the spill was just a prototype for disasters of the future.

He joins the Texas Standard to talk about why we can count on another catastrophe, and why it probably won’t have anything to do with oil.

Why the oil spill is just a prototype for a future disaster:

“[T]he bigger concern is just the technology itself…there are failure modes that you don’t see in advance. You could have something happen with the communications network that’s based in space. A lot of space satellites and communications satellites are technologies that the industry that – I guarantee you – they worry about failure. There were supposed to be safeguards [for Deepwater Horizon]….they didn’t work. There are pathways to failure that people don’t anticipate."

What we can take away from the Deepwater Horizon explosion:

“We are embedded in a technological society now. You need to have a mix of private industry and smart regulation to make sure that someone is looking over someone else’s shoulder. It’s a technological and engineered world….the engineering is going to get more complicated. We need to get smart about it.”

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