The Spill,' airing Tuesday on PBS' Frontline'

Oct. 25, 2010 at 5:25 a.m.

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By Verne Gay



REASON TO WATCH: Stunning overview of the run-up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Once a grand and essential pillar of the British Empire, BP gradually fell on hard times much as said empire. Its chief reserves were lost after the Iranian revolution, and suddenly BP's very survival was at stake. That is the broad framework for this superb "Frontline"/Propublica investigation - which virtually draws a direct line from that financial debacle to the environmental debacle that began on April 20.

A go-go chairman was appointed to turn the company around, and go-go he did - buying companies (like Amoco), refineries, suppliers and on and on, until BP was a worldbeater again. But aggressive cost-cutting and end-runs around vital safety measures lead to a series of catastrophes.

MY SAY: Deepwater Horizon was long-aborning - we all know that - but "The Spill" establishes that it was aborning for nearly 20 years.

Twenty years of mismanagement and malfeasance would normally accelerate the date of expiration for any company, but BP was so big, and so aggressive that it almost seemed to outrun its fate foretold. Until, of course, April 20.

This "Frontline" is just another shining example of what this program does so well: It connects the dots and then draws a line through each of them, until a full and damning portrait emerges. Many dots were already there for everyone to see. Most of these sordid stories - from the 2005 Texas City refinery accident when 15 were killed to the toppling of Thunder Horse, an oil drilling platform - have been reported widely. But as you watch, you start to suspect that no one else bothered to connect the dots, most notably the U.S. government, which ("Frontline" reports) granted BP drilling leases in the Gulf without taking its abominable safety record into consideration.

BOTTOM LINE: Our world spins by so fast that the catastrophe of Deepwater Horizon almost seems like old news right now. Watch this superb piece of explanatory journalism and understand how this past may still be a prologue.



9 p.m. EDT Tuesday



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