Marine Geophysicist Timothy Crone, Marine Geochemist Beizhan Yan, Science Reporter Henry Fountain & Playwright Leigh Fondakowski discuss the Deepwater Horizon disaster, its impact and SPILL on April 1

 From left, Timothy Crone, Beizhan Yan, Leigh Fondakowski, Henry Fountain

From left, Timothy Crone, Beizhan Yan, Leigh Fondakowski, Henry Fountain

On April 1, following the 2:00 PM matinee performance of SPILL, the powerful new drama by Leigh Fondakowski, Timothy Crone, Lamont Associate Research Professor in Marine Geology and Geophysics; Beizhan Yan, Lamont Associate Research Professor in Geochemistry, both from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University; Henry Fountain, science reporter at The New York Times, and Leigh Fondakowski, author and director of SPILL, will gather for a lively discussion of the social, scientific and political issues the play addresses about risk, technology, the tension between industry and nature, and the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill on the Gulf Coast, its people and wildlife.

Created from over 200 hours of interviews with industry experts, surviving crew members, environmental scientists, families of the victims, fishermen, and cleanup workers, SPILL uses the techniques Fondakowski pioneered with The Laramie Project to dramatize the story of what happened on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010 when an explosion killed eleven crew members and triggered a massive 87-day oil spill, the largest in American history. No previous treatment of this event has covered the complete spectrum of the disaster, from the stories of the eleven crew members who died – and those who survived – to what went on before and during the explosion – to the hearings about its causes – to first person accounts from fishermen and the people engaged in the cleanup on the impact of the spill on the coastal community and wildlife.

The New York Premiere of SPILL is being produced as part of The EST/Sloan Project, a twenty-year-long partnership between The Ensemble Studio Theater and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation dedicated to developing new plays “exploring the worlds of science and technology.”

About the panelists

 Timothy Crone

Timothy Crone

Timothy Crone is Lamont Associate Research Professor in Marine Geology and Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. Tim’s research focuses on the interplay between relatively large-scale geophysical processes and the microbial biosphere. He is currently studying the tidal modulation of aqueous fluid flow within mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal systems, with the hope of understanding how such flow variations can affect subseafloor primary production. His other interests include spatial variations in the tidal triggering of microearthquakes within ridge systems, and problems in acoustics associated with high-temperature hydrothermal vents and seafloor seismic networks.

In May 2010, Tim was part of the team of scientists who used computer image analysis of satellite photos of the surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well as optical plume velocimetry (OPV) analysis of the video footage of the seafloor oil flow to challenge BP’s estimate of the volume of the flow of oil in an op-ed in The New York Times. In a paper written with Maya Tolstoy and published in Science in September, Tim and his co-author used OPV to calculate that the total release of oil over the 87 days of the spill amounted to approximately 5.2 million barrels.

 Beizhan Yan

Beizhan Yan

Beizhan Yan is Lamont Associate Research Professor in Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. Beizhan’s research is mainly focused on two areas: 1) characterizing exposure of pollutants and investigating adverse health effects of these pollutants in urban environments and 2) apportioning contamination sources and assessing environmental impact related to human activities (e.g., the fate of contaminants after Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and impact of hydraulic fracturing on water and air quality).

In 2016, Beizhan led a team of scientists working in the Gulf of Mexico who found that contaminants from the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill lingered in the subsurface water for months after oil on the surface had been swept up or dispersed. In a new study, they also detailed how remnants of the oil, black carbon from burning oil slicks and contaminants from drilling mud combined with microscopic algae and other marine debris to descend in a “dirty blizzard” to the seafloor.

 Henry Fountain

Henry Fountain

Henry Fountain is a science reporter for The New York Times. He covers climate change, with a focus on the innovations that will be needed to overcome it. He also writes about earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, nuclear accidents and other natural and human-caused disasters. Among other subjects, he has written about concrete, an elephant that thinks it’s a truck, jealous dogs, nuclear tourism, a building based on bubbles, poison ivy and climate change, arthritic cane toads and worm grunting. Henry joined the Times as an editor on the national desk in 1995. He became a full-time reporter in 2009, after writing the weekly Observatory column in Science Times and other articles on a part-time basis for the previous decade. The Great Quake, his book on the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, will be published in August 2017.

 Leigh Fondakowski

Leigh Fondakowski

Leigh Fondakowski wrote and directed SPILL, this year’s featured EST/Sloan drama about the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A veteran member of Tectonic Theater Project, she was the Head Writer on The Laramie Project (2000), about the murder of Matthew Shepard; an Emmy-nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project (2002) for HBO; and a co-writer of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later (2009). Her original work as writer/director also includes The People’s Temple (2005) about the Jonestown massacre (which led to her book, Stories from Jonestown (2013)), and I Think I Like Girls (2002). Leigh is a 2007 recipient of the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, a 2009 MacDowell Colony Fellow, and a 2010 Distinguished Visiting Chair at the University of Minnesota, where she lectured and developed Casa Cushman, a work-in-progress about nineteenth-century American actress Charlotte Cushman. She is currently a teaching artist at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Naropa University. You can read an EST Blog interview with Leigh about SPILL here.

SPILL began previews on March 8 and performances continue at The Ensemble Studio Theatre through April 2.