Donald Vidrine, the 12th Casualty


Local papers report that Donald Vidrine, the Well Site Leader on the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the blowout, died of cancer and heart disease Saturday at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 69.

Vidrine was clearly a broken man after the incident and the outrageous prosecution of him and Robert Kaluza for first seaman’s manslaughter, then when that wouldn’t stick ordinary manslaughter, then when that was shown to be ridiculous misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. Don pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 months probation. Kaluza fought the charge and was acquitted. The jury didn’t even stick around to get their free dinner. In the Kaluza trial it came out that the senior BP engineer was not even logged in to BP’s network (he was booking a vacation ticket) when Vidrine called him from the rig, presumably to ask about the pressure anomalies and mud loss prior to the first negative test.

Here’s what my friend Lillian Espinoza-Gala said in an interview:

Vidrine was later vilified in a 2016 movie version of the Deepwater Horizon in which he was portrayed by actor John Malkovich. In the movie, Vidrine is depicted as botching a pressure test that should have warned of imminent disaster. Later reports, including those from the, said it was Vidrine’s superiors in Houston who made the decisions to push ahead with the rig work.

Lillian Espinoza-Gala, an academic researcher from Lafayette who studies and writes about offshore safety, said the movie portrayal was “completely inaccurate” about Vidrine’s role.

“Everyone I talked with who worked with Donald said he was the most safety-conscious, risk-averse man, extremely conservative,” said Espinoza-Gala, who was inducted into the Offshore Energy Center Hall of Fame in 2016.

She said Vidrine’s health declined almost immediately after the blowout. He suffered from heart problems and later kidney cancer.

“The engineers who worked with him said he would never have had the heart attack if not for the blowout,” she said.

RIP, Don. You were badly served by many, and deserved better.



I have met and become friends with many of the ARCO engineers who were mentored by Don when they first graduated from college. They credit Don for teaching them all the important principles of the both the art and science of drilling in both shallow and Deepwater that cannot be divined from textbooks and in the classroom… Many of the engineers for major service companies who worked for Don on all the rigs prior to his transfer to Deepwater Horizon tell me he was the most conservative and risk adverse company man they had ever known. He was quiet and kind and soft spoken. He and his wife had a deep faith in God and were very active in their local church in Lafayette. Even after surviving the blow out on Deepwater Horizon, a heart attack and then fighting cancer while facing criminal charges they knew God has some greater purpose for that troubles they were dealing with. When I first learned how they were trusting God in 2014, I really admired that strong faith in the face of such adversity. But by 2016 I began to see how God will use the Macondo experience to help train our next generation of drilling engineers, geologists, investors and corporate executives.


Thank you Earl for posting, that article. Hope my note finds you in good health.


Doin’ OK for an old guy :slight_smile:




Nothing outrageous about that. Vidrine was the man in charge, he was literally the guy BP put on that rig to supervise the drilling. There are many others who own a share of the blame, but that’s the job of the Company Man. Vidrine, surely didn’t intend for that to happen; but the fact is that Vidrine somehow convinced or fooled himself to approve a faulty negative pressure test. After several failures, and after calling a BP engineer, Mark Hafle in Houston for a second opinion, Hafle told him that the test was a failure. Vidrine approved the test anyway. I’m sorry if he was your friend, but he made a terrible mistake in judgement that evening with terrible results.


Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I strongly agree with Prof. Leveson that “Blame is Enemy of Safety.” Criminalizing error gets us nowhere. In the case of Macondo, it prompted a raft of key witnesses to take the Fifth and refuse to cooperate with the various investigations, leaving huge holes in the body of evidence. We don’t know what Hafle told Vidrine in that phone call, but we do know that Hafle wasn’t looking at the Sperry Sun data during the call, he was booking a vacation trip on Continental. The prosecutions were pure politics, Vidrine’s actions didn’t come within a mile of the legal definition of either criminal or ordinary negligence.



He rolled the dice and it wasn’t his lucky day or a lucky day for the people he killed.


Again, I respect your opinion, but I have studied the evidence about as much as anyone and it is not mine.



When there is a discussion about oil rig safety I can seldom resist making a contribution, and as usual there is a lot more to the Deepwater Horizon disaster than what the Company man did, or did not, do. Some of the problems related to the construction of the rig, and to the interpretation of the MODU Code by the designers, and here we might be considering the means by which the people on the rig would be kept alive in an emergency, “preparation” rather than “prevention”. For those who are not completely familiar and are interested in knowing more you could do worse that read a couple of articles I have put on my website .


Excellent articles, well worth reading.




Some might call it karma.

I am sure he is fine wherever he is.