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Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Revised 15 October 2010 The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also known as the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill or the BP Oil Spill) is the largest marine oil spill in history, and was caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform about 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi River delta on April 20, 2010 (28.74N, 88.39W). Most of the 126 workers on the platform were safely evacuated, and a search and rescue operation began for 11 missing workers. The Deepwater Horizon sank in about 5,000 feet (1,500 m) of water on April 22, 2010. On April 23 the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search for missing workers who are all presumed dead. After a series of failed efforts to plug the leak, BP said on July 15 that it had capped the well, stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in 86 days. BP was principal developer of the Macondo Prospect oil field where the accident occurred. The Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd., was under a contract with BP to drill an exploratory well. BP was the lessee and principal developer of the Macondo Prospect oil field in which the rig was operating. At the time of the explosion, BP and Transocean were in the process of closing the well in anticipation of later production. Halliburton had recently completed cementing of casings in the well. The U.S. Government named BP as the responsible party in the incident and will hold the company accountable for all cleanup costs resulting from the oil spill. BP has accepted responsibility for the oil spill and the cleanup costs. However, in a report issued on September 18, 2010, BP clearly indicated its view that Transocean and Halliburton deseved considerable blame for the disaster, allegations vehemently denied by those companies The sinking of the platform caused crude oil to gush out of the riser the 5,000-foot pipe that connects the well at the ocean floor to the drilling platform on the surface. Attempts to shut down the flow failed when a safety device called a blowout preventer (BOP) could not be activated. The rate of oil release became a the subject of intense debate. Throughout the first month of the spill, government responders officially adhered to what we now know were low and inaccurate estimates. Non-governmental scientists, on the other hand, used the small amount of publicly available flow data to generate estimates that have proven to be much more accurate. Live video feeds of the leak from the ocean floor fueled the controversy over the magnitude of the leak. The emerging consensus is that roughly five million barrels of oil were released by the Macondo well, with roughly 4.2 million barrels pouring into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the Deepwater Horizon, the largest oil spill in U.S. waters was in 1968 when the tanker Mandoil II spilled about 300,000 barrels into the Pacific Ocean off Columbia River

near Warrenton, Oregon. The 1989 wreck of the Exxon Valdez released about 261,905 barrels (11 million gallons) of crude oil into Prince Williams Sound in Alaska. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused a spill of eight million gallons of crude and refined oil products from many different point sources into the southern corridor of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1979-80, the Ixtoc 1 exploratory well operated the PEMEX, the Mexican national oil corporation, experienced a blowout and ultimately released about 3.3 million barrels (140 million gallons) of crude oil into the Bay of Campeche in Mexico. The oil slick produced by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill covered as much 28,958 square miles (75,000 square kilometers), an area about the size of South Carolina, with the extent and location of the slick changing from day to day depending on weather conditions. By the first week in June, oil had come ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, with significant wildlife fatalities in Louisiana. In the weeks following the accident, scientists discovered enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, raising concerns about ecological harm far below the surface that would be difficult to assess. The surface slick threatened the ecosystems and the economy of the entire Gulf Coast region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that up to 32 National Wildlife Refuges were potentially affected by the spill. Concerns were raised about the environmental impacts of chemicals known as dispersants that have been used to dissipate the oil slick. By June 2, 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had banned fishing in about 36% of federal waters, or 86,895 sq mi (229,270 sq km) of the Gulf. By June 9, BP stock had lost close to half its value, more than $82 billion, in the seven weeks since the spill started, although the stock rebounded somewhat on the fall of 2010. According to BP, the cost of the response to September 29 amounted to approximately $11.2 billion, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, static kill and cementing, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs. The three month saga of BP's attempts to stem the flow of oil made it clear that the oil industry's impressive ability to extract oil from ever deeper offshore environments had not been accompanied by an equally effective capability to predict and respond to accidents. As drillers pushed the boundaries, regulators didn't always mandate preparation for disaster recovery or perform independent monitoring. Documents and testimony from Congressional hearings revealed a series of potential failures and warning signs at the well site in the hours leading up to the rig explosion, as well as questions that had been raised years earlier about the reliability of deepwater technology and the ability of the industry to deal with "worsecase scenarios" of accidents. The Minerals Management Service, the government agency with lead oversight of offshore oil and gas activity, came under heavy criticism for lax environmental planning and for sacrificing sound stewardship of a public natural resource for the narrow economic gain to private industry.

Explosion and fire

The fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon reportedly started at 9:45 p.m. CST on April 20, 2010. Survivors described the incident as a sudden explosion that gave them less than five minutes to escape as the alarm went off. Video of the fire shows billowing flames, taller than a multistory building. After burning for more than a day, Deepwater Horizon sank on April 22, 2010.

Firefighters combat the fire on the Deepwater Horizon. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard. The precise cause of the explosion and fire that led to the oil spill are under investigation. The current hypothesis about the chain of events is as follows. Transocean, Ltd., representatives said workers had been performing their standard routines with "no indication of any problems" just prior to the explosion. At the time of the explosion the rig was drilling but was not in production. Production casing was being run and cemented at the time of the accident. Once the cementing was complete, it was due to be tested for integrity and a cement plug set to temporarily abandon the well for later completion as a subsea producer. Halliburton said that it had finished cementing 20 hours before the fire. Interviews with rig workers suggest that a bubble of methane gas escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding. Transocean chief executive Steven Newman stated: "there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing or both."

Casualties and rescue efforts

At the time of the explotion there were 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon platform; of these, 115 individuals were evacuated. Most of the workers evacuated the rig and took dieselpowered fiberglass lifeboats to the M/V Damon B Bankston, a workboat that BP had hired to service the rig; some were then evacuated from the workboat by helicopter to regional trauma centers. The United States Coast Guard launched a rescue operation involving two cutters, four helicopters and a rescue plane. After a three-day search covering 5,300 miles, the Coast Guard called off the search for the 11 missing persons, concluding that the "reasonable expectations of survival" had passed. Officials concluded that the missing workers may have been near the blast and not been able to escape the sudden explosion.