Three Years Later: Remembering Deepwater Horizon

By MarEx 2013-04-19 12:10:00

On April 20, 2010, a massive explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killed 11 people and prompted the largest offshore oil spill in American history.

"On the third anniversary of the tragic accident in the Gulf of Mexico, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our 11 colleagues who died and those injured." John Mingé, Chairman and President, BP America

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico, May 6, 2010.

Background

The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.

The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a huge blaze. Of the 126 people on board, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon sank on April 22nd in some 5,000 feet of water.

A helicopter crew medevac survivors from Deepwater Horizon after the explosion.

Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried in vain to activate the blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, effort to plug the well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day, were also unsuccessful. Finally, nearly three months later, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and in late September 2010, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would wreak a heavy toll on the region’s economy.

In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was foreseeable and preventable and the result of human error, engineering mistakes and management failures, along with ineffective government regulation.

In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill.

Looking Towards the Future

Phase one of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill trial has ended. The first phase was to dish out blame among BP and its contractors, including Halliburton, which made the cement used to seal the Macondo well; and Transocean the owner of the infamous oil rig.

Phase two, slated to begin in September 2013, will seek to determine how much oil was spilled. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.

Hundreds of new lawsuits against BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other contractors were filed in Federal Court this week as the deadline to file-oil spill lawsuits approached. Many were from people or businesses that do not want to participate in the settlement, do not qualify, or who presented claims to BP and were ignored or rejected.

It is anticipated that BP, which has set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the spill, will pay billions of dollars more in environmental penalties in the future.