The first episode of the TV series, The Newsroom, follows the story of the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, which took place on April 20, 2010. The episode describes the event from the perspective of journalists who put out a national news show. The journalists discover information about the explosion and the spill and relay that information to their audience .
Senior producer Jim Harper reads an associated press (AP) alert that there has been an explosion on a BP oil rig about 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The AP reporter claimed that coastguard evacuated 7 people all of them critically injured, and they are searching for 11 confirmed missing, and that flames from the rig had reached 150 feet in the air. Journalist, Neal Sampat reads the report and determines that there might be a bigger problem than the missing crew members. He claims that since the rig was drilling at 18,000 feet below sea level that the explosion could have caused a massive oil spill and that fixing it would be like “trying to toss a hat on a fire hose.”
Sampat and Harper experience some resistance from outgoing executive producer, Don Keefer, but are able to convince their bosses, incoming executive producer, Mackenzie McHale and news anchor Will McAvoy, that the story is worth pursuing. Harper receives two phone calls from anonymous sources, one at BP and one at Halliburton, a company that was used to supply the cement mix for the oil rig. Harper’s source from BP claims that BP does not know how to cap the well, and Harper’s source from Halliburton said that Halliburton performed tests on the cement mix and the tests showed that it was going to fail.
Neal: “After an explosion like that, the first thing that’s supposed to happen is the underwater blowout prevent should automatically close.”
Jim: “The flames are still 150 feet high, so that obviously didn’t happen. Now when they get the fire out, they’re gonna send a submersible ROV down there to turn the preventer on manually, but my source says ‘at that depth with that much pressure, it has to be the mechanics that failed and not the electronics.’ In other words, trying it manually isn’t gonna work either.”
Neal: “So they’re gonna have to build relief wells and that’s gonna take months.”
Jim: “Months of oil spilling into the Gulf at a rate of 4.2 million gallons a day.”
Don: “And just for the record, the Gulf of Mexico contains 643 quadrillion gallons of water. I think you may be overreacting.”
Jim: “You are dramatically underreacting.”
Don: “I’m the only one who isn’t dramatically doing anything.”
Jim: “In four days, it’ll have spilled as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. It’s a week before the oil reaches Louisiana shores, three days if the wind shifts.”
Mac: “Is the wind gonna shift?”
Jim: “Only if Louisiana’s luck stays exactly the same.”
Don warns Jim that if he takes Halliburton’s name through the muck and is incorrect, that they will destroy his career and his livelihood: “If you’re wrong about Halliburton, that’s the first line of your bio forever: ‘Isn’t this the same guy who said that Halliburton caused that spill?’ And, by the way, you publicly accuse them of negligent homicide and you’re wrong, they will take you to court. They will win and they will end up owning AWM. They will have their own record label. They will have theme parks.”
Despite all of this McAvoy agrees to not only run the story but to make that their primary focus for the show. The team continues to investigate during the broadcast to make sure that they cover every angle. Associate producer Margaret Jordan discovers that there was a lack of government oversight from the Minerals Management Service in inspecting the well.
Maggie: “It’s the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and they have 56 inspectors overseeing 3,500 production facilities that operate 35,591 wells in the Gulf region. That’s according to the Interior Department, not Wikipedia.”
Mac: “56 inspectors for 35,000 wells?”
Jim: “It gets better.”
Maggie: “Inspections for drilling rigs are required monthly, but Deepwater Horizon was only inspected nine times in 2009 and six times in 2008. The last inspection was done 20 days ago by Eric Neal, who was sent by himself even though he had only just started his training as a government inspector of drilling rigs.”
The point of this energy narrative is to expose how when corporations and government work together that serious negative consequences occur for the weaker force, in this case the environment. These two corporations were trying to make money and save money and in so doing they cut corners and pursued dangerous options. The point of government is to ensure a citizen’s right to safety and therefore regulate the unsafe practices of businesses, but since oil is needed by both the business world and the government, the government shirked its duty.
Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life=energy, environmental degradation, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities.