Trace Adkins may be best known for his cowboy-style country music crooning, but in his first in-depth interview about the BP oil spill, this former oil rig roughneck and derrickman reveals he's unhappy with BP's "company man" mentality and the media's portrayal of his former profession. And he insists the president, despite his rhetoric, is powerless.
"He's hamstrung now," Adkins says. Without opening leases on the continental shelf and drilling for oil in "depths that are more manageable," he says companies are forced to drill in deeper water where the risks are exponentially greater.
But he believes the actions that led to the Deepwater Horizon well disaster are not the fault of the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). While President Obama named a new head of MMS today after firing the previous leader for not adequately monitoring rigs, Adkins paints a different picture of the agency. "As far as the coziness with MMS...when that orange helicopter landed on the heliport, everybody's butt puckered... [MMS] had complete free reign."
So what's Adkins' solution? "There's nothing we're going to do to stop it," he says. "They don't want to come out and say 'well there's really nothing we can do about it'. They can't say that, but I can. "
We caught up with Adkins on his 64-acre farm in Tennessee.
Q: What is the advice you have?
Lift the moratorium on drilling, first of all. I don't know how many tens of thousands of wells we drill in the Gulf of Mexico. But how many times have you heard about this happening? I think that is a pretty good track record, and the chances of it happening again are even less now because they're going to learn from this and this is not going to happen again. I'm not going to say never. Chances are going to be slim.
The President was going to open up some of those leases on the continental shelf, in water that we absolutely know how to do it, in depths that are more manageable. And he should go ahead and do that, but he's hamstrung now. But he should.
As far as any advice about the well, it's gonna have to sand itself up. It's going to have to bridge over is what we call it; at some point bring enough material into bore that it will clog itself up and it will stop. Could take some time. That's what's going to stop it. There's nothing we're going to do to stop it. Nobody will tell anybody that, but I'll tell 'em. They don't want to come out and say 'well there's really nothing we can do about it'. They can't say that, but I can.
Q: What about a nuclear explosion?
God, what a bad idea. No, it's not a solution. You have an open hole going into a reservoir that is under high pressure. And if you create enough of an explosion that you cover it up with a bunch of material, it will just be a few months and that pressure is going to find its way out of there and seep through all of that material. If that's what they're trying to accomplish by blowing it up and creating a pile of rubble; I don't know what they expect to accomplish by something like that.
Q: What's your advice to BP?
Pay for your mess. That's' all they can do. They're going to have to pay for the mess and probably change their name. They've pretty much soiled BP at this point.
Q: Will the oil stop at some point?
Yeah, it will. It's not like an artesian well. It's not going to continue in perpetuity. If it did, we wouldn't have the oil crisis we have today. Every well we ever drilled would still be producing and we wouldn't have anything to worry about. But they do deplete. It will stop.
Q: Do you watch the coverage of the BP oil spill?
I've been keeping up with it, sure.
Q: Did your time on the oil rig make you feel closer to the story?
Yeah, sure. As a matter of fact, I was asked by the folks at Transocean [drilling contractor]...to record a video for them [that] addressed that audience there at the memorial service [May 25th]. I was proud to be asked to do that and glad to do it. It's a brotherhood out there. It's a very dangerous occupation. We all knew that and we all looked out for one another. It was a team- type atmosphere out there. You were looking out for one another. Always.
One of the things I've been a little dismayed by is that some of the coverage seems to try to make it look like some of those guys out there are reckless, irresponsible yahoos. And nothing could be farther from truth.
And as far as the coziness with MMS, I'm here to tell you when that orange helicopter landed on the heliport, everybody's butt puckered. There was no coziness. When MMS landed on the rig, everybody got really uptight. They'd come unannounced, they'd get off helicopters and start walking. They wouldn't even tell anybody what they were looking for, where they were going to go or what they were going to do. They had complete free rein. And you had to be ready any time for them to land. And we always were.
I worked on a drilling rig and derrick for 6 years- three years as a roughneck --and was promoted three years as a derrickman- assistant driller. I don't know how many wells we drilled, but we ain't never drilled a well in over 200 feet of water. So the blowout preventer was always above water. It was on the riser pipe - it was standing up below the rig floor. We maintained it, serviced it, function- tested it every week. More regularly if we thought we needed to. And that's what failed on the Deepwater Horizon well - was the blowout preventer. When a blowout preventer fails in just under 5000 feet of water: Game over. There's nothing you can do about it. The reality is that they haven't been able to secure the rights to drill where they know how to do it. So they've been forced out into deep water and the risks get exponentially greater and this is what this you end up with.
Q: Do you feel for families of the victims?
Only in last couple days have I being hearing stuff about some of shortcuts the BP company man was making out on the rig and some of the things that I heard that he demanded of Transocean. I know I worked for some tool pushers [rig managers] when I was offshore who would have looked at that company man and told him to' go to hell- 'it's going to be the end my crew and I'm not going to do it'. But for some reason they did what the company man wanted them to do. I trusted my life a lot quicker to that old tube pusher who had been drilling wells for 30 years than I did to that company man who just graduated from college.
Q: Why did you quit?
I wanted to try [singing]. In '91, things were getting a little tough in the oil field and Global Marine was starting to lay some people off. I talked to my wife and said, 'hey, you know, I think I'm going to take a voluntary layoff and let's go to Nashville and see what we can do' and that's what we did.
Trace Adkins grew up near Shreveport , La. He spent six years in the late '80s as a roughneck and derrickman for Global Marine on an oil rig in the Gulf before launching his music career. He'll be on tour with Toby Keith beginning June 19th in Holmdel, NJ. He releases a new CD 'Cowboy's Back in Town' August 24th.