What I Learned in Ethics Class: Analyzing Deepwater Horizon

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1410 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 1410|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster
  3. Themes of Authority and Toxic Culture
  4. Implications for Business Ethics Class
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works Cited


On April 20, 2010, the lives of many were changed forever. On this day, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and injuring 17. The movie Deepwater Horizon accurately depicts this event and, drawing from what I learned in ethics class, it vividly shows the struggles and chaos on the rig on April 20th, providing insight into the miscommunications and carelessness that the crew on the Deepwater Horizon were experiencing.

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The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

In the movie, we are first introduced to the three main characters of the movie, Mike Williams, Andrea Fleytas, and James Harrell. The oil drilling by Deepwater Horizon is on behalf of BP, so we are also introduced to the BP managers Vidrine and Kaluza. The managers of BP immediately begin terrorizing them on the way to the rig by reminding them that the drilling is 43 days behind, which puts pressure on the crew to perform faster.

Immediately upon arriving on site, things seem off. Minor things seem to not be performing up to par, such as the phones and safety tests. Harrell is concerned about a cement log testing not being performed and confronts the BP managers about this. The cement log ensures that the cement is safe and sturdy to use, and the BP managers, knowingly being behind schedule, do not want to spend the money and time on maintenance. They are “confident in the integrity of their cement.” Williams informs them that 10% of machinery, 390 machines, need repairing and insists that the way that the BP managers are performing, in terms of the safety precautions being used, will not be adequate enough to complete this drilling. Harrell convinces the managers to run some tests, such as a negative pressure test to test the well-being of the entire well, which reveals a “pressure alert” that is ignored by BP’s representative. Harrell and Vidrine have obviously differing opinions on the safety of the well, because it is indeed BP’s oil and BP’s well, but Harrell and his crew feel responsible and obligated to ensure the safety of the rig, so both parties feel as though they should have the final say. Harrell gives in to the authority of the BP managers and lets the crew proceed with the drilling. The crew performs mud displacement to begin removing mud from the well, which leads to pressure and mud leakage.

Themes of Authority and Toxic Culture

This is where the downward spiral begins. As the pressure builds, mud and oil explode on to the deck, putting the crew that is on the deck in severe danger. They are experiencing annular failure from the pressure, oil, and mud as the entire well bursts. A gas alarm warns the crew that it will more than likely soon ignite in flames. Williams and Harrell, on the other side of the rig than that of the explosion, get blown away from the pressure and kickback from the gas. On a nearby control boat, Fleytas sees the well going up in flames and goes to call a mayday and is stopped by her superior who scolds her judgement to call a mayday. When the entire well explodes, her superior then calls a mayday himself, proving that Fleytas’ judgement was right all along. Fleytas, as the only female on the rig crew, continually gets shut down by the men she is working with as she tries to make fight or flight decisions to save the other people.

As help is becoming aware of the scene, Harrell and Williams awaken from the shock and begin finding their ways to the rest of the crew. They start to realize the mayhem ensuing on the outer part of the rig. Williams begins helping other crew members by calming them down and keeping them focused on getting to safety. As one final explosion erupts, the safety boats is loaded, leaving behind Harrel and Fleytas, who jump to safety over the flames in the water.

The movie ends with the surviving members of the crew being reunited with their families. Eleven men were killed that day and seventeen were injured in what later became most commonly known as the BP oil spill. Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, BP managers, were indicted for eleven counts of manslaughter.

Implications for Business Ethics Class

Being in a Business Ethics class, there were several different themes I noticed in this movie that aligned with what we have been learning. The main theme in the movie, in my opinion, was authority’s complete disregard for other’s suggestions and opinions, leading to detrimental consequences. James Harrell repeatedly suggested to the BP managers that numerous safety tests and maintenance needed to be done before drilling the hole for the oil, but the managers disregarded this because they believed their judgement was better and they were more knowledgeable about the well.

This theme relates to the Ted Talk video we watched in class titled “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work” where Margaret Heffernan speaks about “superchickens.” She begins by talking about William Mur’s experiment where he separated the chickens into two groups: an average group of chickens and the most productive breeding group, also known as “superchickens.” The superchicken group pecked each other to death, leaving all but 3 dead, and the average group increased productivity dramatically. Because the superchickens were more worried about competing to be the best and did not work together to include all of the chickens, the productivity went down and almost all of them died (Heffernan). In society, the “superchickens” can be seen as authority figures of a business who reduce the productivity of “average” workers because they are too focused on competition. I believe the Ted Talk correlates to the Deepwater Horizon plot in that in both cases, there is a clear divide between authority and others. The BP managers would be seen as the “superchickens” and Harrell and his crew would be seen as the average group. If the BP managers would have taken the safety precautions suggested by Harrell and not have been so focused on the pressure of competition and the deadline they needed to meet, then the oil rig potentially could’ve been more productive and not exploded. The managers tried to be superheroes and ended up being villains to the families and crew involved in the oil spill.

Another more underlying theme I noticed in the movie was how Andrea Fleytas was treated during the crisis. The man working alongside her would not allow Fleytas to make decisions and when she did, he would reprimand her. He even told her not to call a mayday when the rig was exploding, and a mayday call was clearly needed just so he could call shortly after just to assert his dominance. This can be seen as “toxic testosterone culture” which is describe by Dr. Patrick Dickson in his video titled “Toxic Testosterone Culture - Why women leave business - workplace equality - Human Resources Speaker.” Dr. Dickson talks about the increasing number of women in college and therefore in the workplace. He describes “toxic testosterone culture” as a culture that ignores the equality of women. Dr. Dickson says that in order to fix this issue, businesses must start listening to the ideas and concerns of women in the workplace, considering that in the future it is predicted that in the future, 70-80% of college students will be women (Dixon). In Deepwater Horizon, Fleytas is the one of the only women on the rig amongst 126 crew members. They are experiencing a “toxic testosterone culture” because they disregarded her ability to reason in a crisis just because she was a woman and they were men. If the men she was working with would have trusted her judgement and allowed her to press the emergency “stop” button and call a mayday, a portion of the explosion could have been prevented.

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This business ethics class has helped me to analyze and understand the ethical issues within workplaces and society. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill could have been prevented if the ethically correct procedures were followed in preparing for and handling the drilling of the rig. The superchicken effect and toxic testosterone culture lead to the worst oil disaster in U.S. history and the lives of 11 men to be lost.

Works Cited

  1. Deepwater Horizon. Peter Berg. Summit Entertainment, 2016. Film.
  2. Dixon, Patrick. “Toxic Testosterone Culture.” YouTube, YouTube, 2008,
  3. Heffernan, Margaret. “Why It's Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work.” YouTube, YouTube, 2015,
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This essay was reviewed by
Prof. Linda Burke

Cite this Essay

What I Learned in Ethics Class: Analyzing Deepwater Horizon. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“What I Learned in Ethics Class: Analyzing Deepwater Horizon.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
What I Learned in Ethics Class: Analyzing Deepwater Horizon. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2024].
What I Learned in Ethics Class: Analyzing Deepwater Horizon [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 31 [cited 2024 Feb 26]. Available from:
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