Earl Boebert and James Blossom, Authors of Deepwater Horizon: A Systems Analysis of the Macondo Disaster

Quotes from Reviews, Blogs, and Forum Postings  

…a tremendous book. Highly recommended to anyone working in the drilling industry or working on/with any complex systems.

…readers wanting to know just what happened and why in the Deepwater Horizon disaster will never find a better book than this case study.

…very worthwhile book. The abstract “systems approach” concepts are explained in common sense terms and the technical details on drilling are illustrated with drawings. The book pulls it all together in a very readable package.

Should be required reading for anyone in the industry or those that purport to regulate them.

Great read; appreciate the effort and review. This is the world I work in so it is very familiar to me.

…[The description of] the process to construct a wellbore was well done. A lay person, or at least someone with basic technical background but not in the industry, should easily be able to understand. But it was also not written in such nebulous or simplified terms that someone within the well construction industry could not recognize the process.

[A] patient and very detailed analysis of the event.

… an engaging and ultimately gripping read, at first illuminating and then impossible to put it down, even if you do have to go to work the next day.

A very specific, very technical, and yet somehow also very gripping new definitive analysis of the worst Gulf oil disaster in history.

…should be read by both oil field professionals and those responsible for large projects both within the oil industry and where ever large complex systems exist with the potential for catastrophic failure.

The systems oriented discussion in Deepwater Horizon: A Systems Analysis of the Macondo Disaster is, in some respects, an interesting departure from other analyses of the disaster. It makes sense and, more importantly, it doesn’t dismiss the role that human factors (failures) played in the incident. I would recommend it.

During the books writing I was very aware of the meticulous research the author went through. Consulting as he did a large group of Oil Field professionals to analyse and re-analyse the available data.

Gripping, highly detailed, and potentially of great interest to engineers who themselves work on complex, highly visible projects, Deepwater Horizon will help you break down and relive one of the most consequential engineering disasters in recent memory.

…reads almost like a detective novel and … can be read on various levels — from interested layman to safety professional and all points in between

It provides a fascinating and thorough account of the disaster that explores the complex relationship between technology, humans and their interaction.

…studying this case is useful for young people because it will help to be able to recognize ‘go fever,’ ‘brittle organizations,’ and see the importance of safety culture. Earlier in the book, [the authors mention] that BP had too many bright young ambitious people and not enough mentors for them. I’ve seen organizations that operate that way before, and I’ve seen the consequences myself. But if I had read something like this when I was first entering the workforce, I might not have been such a True Believer for so long. Better to have your eyes open than to trust in the full-colour-glossy-colour-coordinated system that they try to sell you on during your indoctrination.

This book assembles and organizes a substantial number of material details that form the context for a catastrophe that could happen again.

Most accounts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster dwell on the drama of the rig’s last hours, as the crew struggled to cope with the well blowout and then fought to survive. Those events are also part of Boebert and Blossom’s story, but the scope of their narrative is broader. Much of the action takes place deep underground, where drilling technology meets the uncertainties of geology, or else miles away in BP’s Houston offices. Their approach is analytic rather than dramatic. Theirs is the account for readers who want to understand how such disasters come about and what strategies might have the best chance of preventing more of them.

Earl Boebert's Resume  

I wrote my first computer program in 1958 as an undergraduate at Stanford. In 1961 another student and I automated the halftime card stunts  for football games, the earliest known application of computing to pixel graphics. I was nominated for “Pioneer in Computer Graphics,” but SIGGRAPH said human pixels didn’t count 🙂

While at Stanford I also served terms as dorm president and president of the Stanford Sports Car Club, and was awarded a grant to visit the Air Historical Branch of the Royal Air Force to research the history of the Eagle Squadrons, the American volunteers to the RAF. This was in support of an undergraduate honors thesis that was eventually published by the American Aviation Historical Society and was the first secondary source written about these pilots. Inquiries about copies should be made to the Society Webmaster

After graduating I became an Electronic Data Processing Officer in the United States Air Force, where I was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for my efforts in converting systems from assembly to high−level programming languages.

I then joined Honeywell, where I did new systems development and acted as technical liaison to the computer division of Nippon Electric. I was one of the three lead designers on an Air Force project calledUNTS, the Undergraduate Navigator Training System, also known as the T-45 system. The system generated real-time synthetic landmass radar for 55 student stations, each of which could simulate flight up to Mach 2 and an altitude of 70,000 feet. It was the largest distributed real-time system of its day (early 1970s) with 150 networked computers and a gigabyte of real-time storage. It and its upgrades served for 37 years and trained over 20,000 students.

When Honeywell bought the GE computer business in 1969, I became involved with the Multics project, which was constructing a multi-user system that was at least 20 years ahead of its time. I managed a group that produced security enhancements for that system, acted as liaison to Nippon Electric in an unsuccessful attempt to sell a Multics system in Japan, and learned a lot about large-scale corporate mergers. Notably, that they almost never work.

I contributed to the design and verification of software for the Saab JA37B autopilot, which was the first full-authority digital fly-by-wire system to fly operationally.

I performed similar tasks for the Mark 48 torpedo and the Space Shuttle main engine controller. I led the engineering of several advanced electronic security systems, rose to the grade of Senior Research Fellow and won Honeywell’s highest award for technical achievement. I acted as a corporate-wide software project troubleshooter and, based on that experience, developed a course on systems engineering and project management that was attended by over 3,000 students in 13 countries.

I also was a regular consultant to the Weapons System Support Activity at the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, where I focused on the management and verification of the A6E Operational Flight Program software.

I then became technical founder and Chief Scientist of Secure Computing Corporation where I led the creation of the Sidewinder security server and other security products.

My final position before retirement was as a Senior Scientist for Sandia National Laboratories, where I lead and participated in a variety of analysis projects.

After retirement I served a short tour as a cyber security consultant to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

I have served on National Research Council committees that produced the following reports:

1991: Computers at Risk: Computing in the Information Age
1997: For the Record: Protecting Electronic Health Information
1999: Trust in Cyberspace
2003: Information Technology for Counterterrorism: Immediate Actions and Future Possibilities
2004: A Review of the FBI´s Trilogy Information Technology Modernization Program
2008: Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment
2010: Proceedings of a Workshop on Deterring Cyberattacks: Informing Strategies and Developing Options for U.S. Policy
2010: Risk-Based Approaches for Securing the DOE Nuclear Weapons Complex.

I´ve also participated in the workshops “Cyber-Attack” and “Insider Threat” and have acted as a reviewer for many National Research Council reports. In recognition of the above service, in December 2011 I was made a National Associate of the National Research Council. This is a special lifetime honor for those who have made extraordinary contributions to the work of the National Research Council.

I am listed as inventor on 13 patents in computer and communications security.

In 2016 I was elected to the American Model Yachting Association Hall of Fame, in recognition of my contributions to the hobby and sport of radio controlled model sailboats. I am the Historian for the U.S. Vintage Model Yacht Group, edited its publication “The Model Yacht” from 1998 to 2020, and have helped curate the sailing models of Nathanael Herreshoff which are in the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, RI.

Selected publications pertaining to model and full-scale yachting:

Yankee III: Build and Sail a Model of a Famous J Class Yacht. (Book, 2003)

“‘That Peculiar Property:’ Model Yachting and the Analysis of Balance in Sailing Hulls.” In Proc 18th Chesapeake Sailing Symposium .

“Yankee: The Most Astonishing J” In Proc 4th Classic Yacht Symposium.

“RG65 Design” In Model Yachting (Journal of the American Model Yachting Association) Issue 165.

James Blossom's Resume  

My technical experience began in 1969 as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force where I was a Weapons Control Technician responsible for maintaining radar, missile, and bombing systems on F4E fighter-bombers. While in the USAF I served in Da Nang RVN, and at Udorn Thani RTAFB in northern Thailand. While in the US I served at the fighter weapons school at Nellis AFB performing OT&E (Operational Testing and Evaluation) and maintenance for the RED FLAG exercises testing captured soviet aircraft against US fighters. I am a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans.

In 1973 I began a twenty-year career as a Senior Technologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where I wrote specifications and requirements for Automatic Particle Beam control systems, was Controls System Manager for Vacuum, Cooling, and Accelerator Timing systems on the GTA accelerator, and performed advanced development of precision timing systems in support of the National Nuclear Test Program. I designed and fielded a satellite-linked weather and radiation monitoring system deployed across four states. I designed, built, and developed the first complete 32-bit micro-processor-based computer outside of a semi-conductor lab, and designed the first 1024-node hypercube-architecture supercomputer processor node, as well as high-speed analog data acquisition systems. At Los Alamos, I also worked on developing controls for a 512-axis mirror alignment system as well as terawatt pulse discharge supplies used for laser fusion.

In 1994 I became C.E.O. Positronix Photocontrols, Inc., responsible for the design, development, production, and marketing of EMP-hardened photonic control modules used in testing Space Shuttle Main Engines, High Voltage Accelerator Controls, Patriot missile tests, and START Treaty verification operations.

I then spent a year as a Senior Engineer at G.E. Instrument Control Systems where I developed Load Shed and Breaker Control software for several large mixed fuel high voltage power generation systems.

After that I became the V.P. of Engineering for kWh Automation, responsible for the design, development, and integration of Power Generation Control Systems. There I developed, integrated, and installed software and hardware for the Breaker Control, Load Shed, and Energy-Management Systems of a 120 Mw mixed fuel power generation system. I moved on to being the Director of Western Regional Operations for kWh Automation with responsibility for development and design of Energy Management and Control Systems for the Western U.S.A. I am now a part-time Consultant kWh Automation, Inc.

In my spare time I play at pottery, oil painting, lapidary, and woodworking.

I have authored or co-authored the following papers:

Characteristics of a Negative PionBeam for the Irradiation of Superficial Nodules
Medical Physics
Jan./Feb 1975, Vol2. No. 1

32-Bit Microcomputer Development at the Data Systems Project Office
1984 Rio Grande ACM

Single Board 32-bit Computer for the FASTBUS
Presented at the 4th Conference on Real-Time Computing Applications in Nuclear and Particle Physics, May, 1985; IEEE Transactions on Nuclear and Particle Science. Aug 1985. Vol. NS-26 No. 1

A 32-bit Computer for Large Memory Applications on the FASTBUS
Presented at the 4th Conference on Real-Time Computer Applications in Nuclear Science and Particle Physics, May, 1985: IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science. Aug. 1985 Vol. NS-32 No.1

A 32-bit Computer for the FASTBUS
Presented at the Nov. 85 IEEE Nuclear Sciences Symposia. IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science. Feb. 1986 Vol. NS-33 No.1

Automatic Injector Control for the High Current Test Stand

Presented at the Sept. 1986 Strategic Defense Initiative Office Ground Test Accelerator program review.