AP Environmental Science
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The BP Disaster
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was one of the most infamous industrial environmental disasters ever. On April 20, 2010, a marine oil-drilling dig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded, releasing hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This explosion resulted in the loss of human life, massive environmental damage, and widespread damage to the livelihood of people living along the Gulf Coast. The organization with the largest share in the oil drill, BP (Beyond Petroleum), is still facing consequences of this spill and lost millions of dollars as well as national support. The Obama administration also received criticism for not responding to this crisis quickly enough. This monstrous oil spill created environmental, health, social, and economic problems that were unprecedented, and the rippling effects of the spill are still being felt today.
To fully understand the story behind the incident that incited massive worldwide ramifications, one must get a better understanding of the company in charge of the oil rig and what their fault was. BP, which stands for Beyond Petroleum, is, as they state, “one of the world’s leading international oil and gas companies, providing its customers with fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, lubricants to keep engines moving, and the petrochemicals products used to make everyday items.” (BP, 2013). This now world-leading petroleum company was created in 1908 in England, and has since expanded to employ over 83,000 people in 30 different countries, and has broken records with its quarterly net income of $16.86 billion in the first quarter of 2013.
On their website, BP states that they have “five values that express [their] shared understanding of what [they] believe, how [they] aim to behave, and what [they] aspire to be as an organization.” These values are, in order: 1. Safety: “We care about the safe management of the environment.” 2. Respect: “We respect the world in which we operate.” 3. Excellence: “[We] are committed to excellence through the systematic and disciplined management of our operations.” 4. Courage: “We explore new ways of thinking and are unafraid to ask for help.” 5. One Team: “We put the team ahead of our personal success and commit to building its capability.” To understand how at fault BP is for this spill, we must look into what exactly the explosion was and the main events contributing to the spill, as well as how BP may have gone against their own regulations in their protection and cleaning schemes.
The Deepwater Horizon was a 9-year-old drilling rig in the Mississippi Canyon Block 252 of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a semi-submersible, mobile, foating, dynamically positioned rig that could operate into waters up to 10,000 feet deep. The machine, shown below, was built by Hyundai and owned by Transocean, and the rig was chartered to BP from March 2008 to September 2013. The oil well it was drilling in was 35,050 feet deep, in about 5,100 feet of water. The well is located 41 miles off of the coast of Louisiana. BP, the principal owner of this well (known as the Macondo Prospect), owned a 65% share, while Anadarko Petroleum Corporation owned 25% and MOEX Offshore 2007 owned 10%.
A waterline view of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig prior to explosion. The majority of the rig’s mass is below water.
On April 20, 2010 at about 9:45 pm, high-pressure methane gas from the well expanded into the drilling riser and rose to the drilling rig, where it ignited and created a huge explosion that engulfed the platform. This explosion killed 11 out of the 126 people on board, and injured 17 others. The oil rig burned for 36 hours until it sunk, and hydrocarbons from the explosion continued to leak into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. A statement from BP read “The accident involved a well integrity...
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