Atlantic Books Today Spring 2012

The Ocean Ranger
Remaking the Promise of Oil

By Susan Dodd  

On Valentine’s night in 1982, the ‘unsinkable’ oil-rig Ocean Ranger sank in the deep, wintry ocean waters off the coast of Newfoundland. All eighty-four crewmembers died, including Susan Dodd’s twenty-four-year old brother Jim. Published on the thirtieth anniversary of the disaster and dedicated to her parents, the book opens with the likely sequence of events that compromised the stability of the rig and the last harrowing hours as the crew fought for their lives. Dodd admits that it is still very hard for her to think about the failed evacuation attempt. Her comment regarding the photo of the capsized lifeboat attests to the rawness of her emotion even after all this time. “And that capsized lifeboat heaved and heaved in the grey television waves.”

Having had three decades to ponder what happened, why it happened, why similar industrial disasters continue to happen, it is obvious that Dodd decided to channel her feelings of loss, betrayal and anger into exploring authoritative answers to these questions. Grounded in an interdisciplinary, academic approach that includes legal, psychological, sociological, political and philosophical perspectives, each chapter makes for captivating reading. There is a breadth and depth of analysis that is on a far different plane from that of so-called “official’ reports.

Dodd writes with conviction. Her insights regarding oil companies’ and government’s handling of the aftermath of the Ocean Ranger point to systemic problems so insidious that they leave survivors feeling frustrated and powerless. She alludes to subsequent disasters like the Westray coal mine explosion, the crash of Cougar Flight 491 and the Deepwater Horizon explosion to hammer home the need for continued vigilance.

As I write, news of the tragic derailment of a CN train in Burlington, Ontario is hitting the airwaves. I find myself listening with a new set of ears, acutely aware of Dodd’s reiteration that “corporate self regulation is a myth” and that we all have ” an obligation to the future” to challenge the official version of industrial traumatic events. Although not an easy read, this book deserves a wide readership-artists, academics, industry specialists, politicians and citizens from a diversity of communities.-Madeline Comeau

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