Ignoring the Canary in the Coal Mine?
After reading a letter from Mike Schaff, a self-described “Resident of Paradise Stolen” from Bayou Corne, LA, he discusses how industrial disasters like Bayou Corne could have been avoided had industry and government paid attention to “the canary in the coal mine.”
Mr. Schaff reminded me of Roger M. Boisjoly, a man known for his honesty and according to his family members, “would not back down from what he believed in.”
Roger worked in the aircraft industry for Morton Thiokol, working on solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle program. In 1985, he warned managers that 0-rings used to seal joints in the booster rockets could fail at freezing temperatures. ‘The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order — loss of human life,’ he wrote in a memo. But, the problem had not been resolved when the space shuttle Challenger was prepared for launch on January 28, 1986.
Roger and four other engineers tried desperately to convince management that the launch should be scrubbed. They raised the alarm that the o-rings in the rockets may become brittle and fail, allowing hot gases to leak at the joints. Morton Thiokol and NASA managers dismissed the arguments, and decided to go ahead with the launch.
73 seconds after lift-off, a horrified public, including thousands of schoolchildren watching as seven astronauts plummeted to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA responded like a typical government agency: Scrub documents and gag employees. Roger, who had once been known as a “crackerjack troubleshooter,” was re-labeled a “whistleblower.”
In June of 1986, President Reagan’s commission confirmed that failed o-rings caused to the disaster. But, rather than blame the individuals who ignored the engineers’ warnings, the commission criticized the “flawed” process of decision-making.
NASA failed to learn the lessons of the Challenger disaster. In 2003, foam insulation broke off during Columbia’s lift-off and punched a hole in a wing. As it re-entered earth’s atmosphere over Texas, another seven astronauts were sent to their deaths.
To the good men and women of Helis Oil, please hear us – The canaries in the coal mine. Please learn from history and avoid having to deal with a disaster. We believe in this, and we won’t back down. St. Tammany Parish is the wrong location for your operations. The risks are too high. The scrutiny is too great. Your fracking plan for St. Tammany Parish is a NO GO.