The BP oil spill, more famously referred to as the Deepwater Horizon Spill, occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico and flowed unmitigated for as long as 3 months. The BP oil spill has fared as the largest marine oil spill ever confronted in the history of the petroleum industry. The oil spill on the 20th of April 2010 was primarily the result of a gas release followed by an explosion in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, in the Gulf of Mexico, established on the Mocando exploration well designed for BP.
The explosion took the lives of 11 individual’s and rendered 17 severely injured. Furthermore, it led to devastating impacts on the environment, polluting both, the land and the seas. The Deepwater Horizon was essentially a massive floating deep water drilling rig, which could operate in depth of as much as 10,000 feet under water.
The drilling rig was owned by Transocean. At the time of the explosion, the drilling rig was operating at 5100 feet in depth of water, drilling an exploratory well around 35,050 feet deep, in the Mocando Prospect, located at the Gulf of Mexico. On the 20th April 2010, the most devastating oil spill ever experienced in American history began to take shape and form.
At approximately 9:45 pm on the previously mentioned date, methane gas broiling at intense high pressure immersed into the drilling riser, overwhelming the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded into wildfire flames, endangering the drilling rig to nothingness. After being laden with furious flames for an approximate of 36 hours, the Deepwater Horizon sank on the morning of 22nd April 2010.
In order to understand the root causes and events that lead to the explosion and subsequently the oil spill, it is important to probe into the background of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in concern to the safety record of Transocean and the pre-explosion warnings and problems that were being experienced. In the years following 2003, various reports were being culminated on Transocean, deeming it to be responsible for certain safety related issues in the Gulf coast coupled with industry surveys allegedly reporting diminished performance and quality.
In the time period between 2003 and 2010, Transocean owned 42% of the active oil rigs in the Gulf and around 73% of the incidents triggering a Minerals Management Service investigation at the time were on Transocean owned rigs. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Transocean had problems previously with both cement seals and blowout preventers in oil rigs, which are the two potential marked causes of the Deepwater Horizon loss.
Previously, the Deepwater Horizon had suffered quite a few spills and fires, with some of them being rather serious while others very small scale in nature. What is of grave importance here, is to know, that certain internal BP documents later came to reveal that since 2009 BP engineers were skeptical about the metal casing of pipes BP wanted to use, thinking it had the possibility of collapsing under high pressure. In March 2010, the situation worsened and the rig began to experience concerns such as falling of the drilling mud into the undersea oil formation, unexpected releases of gas, falling of a gas pipe into the well, and at least three reported incidents of the blowout preventer fluid suffering with leaks.
The mechanics working at the rig voiced their concerns and reported that the rig keeps kicking in an attempt to hold up under the high pressure of gas, trying to provide resistance. Furthermore, a confidential survey conducted by Transocean reported that many workers at the rig were deeply concerned about the operation and the safety conditions of the rigs and at the time of the explosion out of the 126 people present at the site, 79 were Transocean employees. These workers felt that BP was giving precedence to commencement of drilling over maintenance of the rig, overlooking the lack of reliability commanded by the equipment in practice.
Moreover, these workers were apprehensive of being fired if they raised their unanimous pleas over the potentially risky and bold steps being taken forward by BP and hence reported fake data, distorting the perception of safety circling around the rig when asked to give an account of the conditions at which the rig was operating. More so, an unreported accident which occurred in March 2010, as showcased by a report by ’60 minutes’, revealed that the blowout preventer had been severely damaged. An investigation released on 25th May 2010 by the ‘House Committee on Energy and Commerce’ indicated a number of warnings that were visibly prominent just a few hours prior to the explosion.
One of the most astonishing signs was equipment readings revealing gas bubbles invading the well, indicating the possibility of impending doom and a substantially large blowout. Initially the gas of the leaking well was held down due to the heavy drilling mud in the pipes. However, a BP official later asked a worker to replace the setting of the drilling pipes, exerting more pressure of gas on the well, prompted by an atmosphere of haste to commence the project. All these factors worked in unison leading to the looming disaster waiting ahead.
Given the various different risks and warnings that were voiced and issued against the safety concerns subjected to the well, it can be concluded that the reasons behind the explosion and oil spill were primarily related to a massive failure in maintaining the integrity of the well coupled with a loss of hydrostatic control and negligence in securing the blowout preventer equipment to an optimal level. The oil spill was discovered in the morning of the 22nd of April when a slick of oil had visibly taken over the site where the rig was once situated. This leak amounted to around 4.9 million barrels of oil, leaving behind the previously held disastrous record of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The official statistics produced by the Flow Rate Technical Group reported that an approximate of 53,000 barrels of oil was escaping from the well till it was finally capped on the 15th of July. The total spread of the oil in distance was estimated at 10,000 squared km. The spill had spread over the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Breton National Wildlife Refuge, and sightings of the oil spill were confirmed over the beaches of the Gulf National Seashore, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida barrier islands and areas along the Louisiana coastline. The well was capped successfully on the 15th of July 2010, and the oil had dissipated to quite an extent, surprisingly more than what was expected, by the 30th of July.