Deepwater Horizon Explosion

The Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible offshore oil rig built in 2001 and owned by Transocean. It was eventually leased to BP and was involved in drilling history's deepest oil well. In February 2010, the Deepwater Horizon began drilling an exploratory well at the Macondo Prospect, which was about 40 miles off of the Louisiana coast. It was a prospect jointly owned by BP, Anadarko, and MOEX Offshore 2007. Two months later, the rig was wrapping up the well and was in the stages of the well's conclusion.

Cleaning Up After the Deepwater Horizon Explosion

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April 20, 2010: The Explosion

At approximately 9:45 p.m. on April 20, 2010, there was an explosion of seawater from the rig's drilling riser. Shortly after this 240-foot eruption of seawater followed a combination of mud, methane gas, and water. This resulted in several explosions on the ship and then a "firestorm." Of the crewmembers who were aboard the vessel at the time of the blast, 11 were killed. The rest of the crew was evacuated, with many being airlifted to receive emergency medical attention. The oil rig burned for approximately 36 hours after the initial explosion and sank 2 days later.

The Subsequent Oil Spill

The blast resulted in the most devastating oil spill in U.S. history. This is referred to as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as the BP oil spill. It continued for three months after the explosion until July of that year. In total, over 4.9 million barrels were released with over 53,000 barrels released on average daily. On July 15, 2010, the wellhead was finally capped as they finally staunched the wound. Beyond the injuries sustained by the crew, the oil caused extensive damage to the area surrounding it—affecting wildlife, the environment, and the coastal communities. Much of the shoreline was closed while ships, containment booms, barriers, and other methods of cleanup were utilized to contain and stop the spill from spreading. As of November 2010, it was estimated that over 320 miles of the Louisiana coastline had ultimately been affected.

January 2011: The White House’s Final Report

In January 2011, the White House oil spill commission released their final report on the causes of the BP oil spill. In the report, they stated the involved companies (BP, Halliburton, and Transocean) had not taken the proper steps to provide safeguards against something of this nature. They also released a chart that showed the correlation of decisions that possibly saved time and money but increased the assumed risks of those aboard. Some of the fundamental mistakes that were cited by the commission include the failure of using a cement bond log to test the cement's stability. By not exercising proper caution, they did not check the cement, which ultimately proved to be unstable. They also displaced mud in the riser pipe, did not run the appropriate tests, and did not correctly learn from previous mistakes that could have avoided this disaster.

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Common Questions

  • Could the Deepwater Horizon Disaster Have Been Prevented?

    Just over a month after the April 20, 2010 explosion that tore through the Deepwater Horizon, President Barack Obama announced the creation of an independent, nonpartisan entity that would investigate and analyze the cause of the disaster and recommend changes that would make America’s offshore drilling operations safer for workers and the environment. After six months, the commission completed its analysis and released a report that found the explosion could have been prevented.

    According to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling:

    “The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.”

  • How Many People Were Injured or Killed in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion?

    When the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, 11 workers lost their lives. 17 others were injured. In total, there were 126 crew members on the rig at the time of the explosion. 94 of the workers who survived were taken by lifeboat and 17 were evacuated by helicopter. Some jumped from the rig as the fire spread. The workers who lost their lives ranged in age from just 22 years old to 49 years old; 2 were engineers and 9 were crew members on the platform floor.
  • How Much Oil Spilled From the Deepwater Horizon? Is It All Cleaned up Today?

    The damaged Macondo well spilled about 168 million gallons of oil over 87 days, until it was finally capped on July 15, 2020. This was the largest oil spill in history and has been called the worst environmental disaster in the U.S. Tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, marine mammals, and fish were harmed by the spill, with pollution reaching more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. The spill also caused billions of dollars in economic losses in the Gulf of Mexico and the loss of about 22,000 jobs.
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