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Deepwater oil disaster warns against drilling the Bight

  • 05 October 2016


Deepwater Horizon (M). Director: Peter Berg. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich. 107 minutes

At the opening night of the Environmental Film Festival Australia in Melbourne last week, festival patron and former Greens senator Bob Brown highlighted the movement against oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight. He painted a picture wherein a major spill in the region could lead to an environmental disaster stretching as far from the site as the NSW coast. It was a sobering introduction to the opening night film, When Two Worlds Collide, Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel's riveting documentary about violent protests that broke out in Peru over the extraction of natural resources from the Amazon Rainforest. Such operations inevitably place considerable strain on the points at which ecological welfare, economic concerns and ordinary human lives converge.

The most salient reference point for the ecological risks represented by drilling the Bight is of course the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, spilling millions of barrels worth of oil. Eleven people lost their lives in the explosion, but the environmental damage was catastrophic and ongoing, with one report in April this year finding that 88 per cent of baby or stillborn dolphins within the spill area 'had abnormal or under-developed lungs', compared to 15 per cent in other areas.

Arriving at the same time as the Festival (but not screening as part of it) comes Deepwater Horizon, a big-budget Hollywood film that recreates the events of 20 April 2010; the explosion of the oilrig, and the corporate and economic tensions that led to it.

Rather than an environmental treatise, this is history recast as action blockbuster, featuring muscle-bound movie star Mark Wahlberg as crewmember Mike Williams, a genial working Joe who is on board when the disaster strikes and who, armed with his mettle, physical prowess and general smarts, fights not only to survive but to bring several of his colleagues through with him.

The film properly focuses on the human lives involved. We glimpse Mike's home life with his wife Felicia (Hudson) and their young daughter, who provides her own cute, canned overview of the mechanics of oil drilling. This proves helpful later on when processing some of the story's technical elements.


"The failure to acknowledge the impact of the spill on the natural environment