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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Research Paper

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill The largest marine oil spill in United States history began on April 20, 2010, with an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of barrels of oil flowed into the water over the next 87 days, much of which washed up on shore along the Gulf coast region of the United States and Mexico. The accident was the result of numerous shortcuts undertaken by BP, and resulted in both environmental destruction and legal action.

The events of the accident, the extensive corrective action undertaken by various government gencies, and the numerous violations, eventually issued as Incidents of Non-Compliance (INC), which were sent to BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, will be explored. The Accident Barstow, Rohde, and Saul (2010) provided an in-depth examination of what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon in April 2010 for the New York Times. According to these authors, there were two separate parts to the accident, a blowout, followed by the complete destruction of the oilrig, during which 11 people lost their lives.

Ideally, the Deepwater Horizon should have been able to survive a blowout, but every single defense ystem failed, including crew training. Barstow, Rohde, and Saul (2010) note that the Macondo well had fallen behind schedule from the beginning, and the Deepwater Horizon rig had been sent into order to drill quickly. On the morning of April 20, crews were performing a negative pressure test, which resulted in oil and gas seeping into the well. Eventually, a significant amount of oil and gas, perhaps hundreds of barrels worth, moved up the well past the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer.

This material pushed its way up the riser pipe to the rig itself, resulting in a significant explosion. Broder (2011), also writing for the New York Times, reports that the central cause of the blowout was the failure of the cement at the base of the well, 18,000 feet below. Once the blowout began, there was a “cascade of human and mechanical errors” which led to the explosion and fire (12). A series of explosions then “gutted the Deepwater Horizon stem to stern” (Barstow, Rohde, & Saul, 2010, 1).

According to BP (2015), the rig burned some 36 hours before sinking. Corrective Actions by Various Agencies Ramseur (2015) notes that the US Coast Guard was the agency leading response activities, with some 47,000 personnel evoted to the accident at the height of operations in the summer of 2010. Some 206 million gallons (4. 9 million barrels) spilled. “Never before had a subsea drilling system discharge of this magnitude, or an oil spill of this size… occurred in U. S. waters” (p. 1).

Thad Allen (2010), the US Coast Guard National Incident Commander for the accident, noted in his report that response to the spill was “complicated by the lack of human access to the Macondo wellhead,” located 45 miles offshore and 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface (p. 6). Although there was a “continuous discharge of oil” from April 22 to July 15, it was a eries of “thousand of smaller disconnected spills” (p. 6). The end result was, in Allen’s words: “Every day, for 87 days, we faced the equivalent of a major new oil spill” (p. ). Allen (2010), as Commandant of the Coast Guard, was the Vice Chair of the National Response Team (NRT), an “interagency coordinating body,” which includes the EPA, the Department of Commerce, the UDSA, DOD, FEMA, NRC, HHS, and Department of Energy (p. 10-11).

Allen was the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) during the cleanup, issuing directives to BP, throughout the effort (p. 12). He notes: “multiple federal agencies acted within heir existing authorizes to execute their particular agency responsibilities” (p. 3). The BBC (2010) provided a detailed timeline of the oil spill, noting that BP first unsuccessfully attempted to activate the well’s blowout preventer on April 26. Three days later, the Coast Guard set fire to patches of spilled oil in an effort to prevent the spill from reaching Louisiana wetlands. However, oil began appearing in these environmentally vulnerable areas the next day. A second BP effort on May 8 to contain the well failed, as did a 26-29 May effort to top kill the well, or plug it with drilling mud.

It was on June 4 that BP was able to install a lower marine riser cap, which allowed for leaking gas and oil to be collected by surface vessels. Additionally, BP (2015) notes that 6,500 vessels and 2,500 miles of boom were used in an attempt to contain the oil from reaching the shore (98). Li and coauthors (2015) report that 1. 84 million gallons of Corexit 9500A, a chemical dispersant, was both sprayed on the surface and released underwater in the Gulf in order to break down oil (p. ). The Environmental Protection Agency (2010) issued a new release on May 10 that laimed it was responsible for overseeing BP’s use of dispersants in combating the spill. Allen (2010) notes that using dispersants “has a long and controversial history” (p. 16). Li and coauthors further noted, however, that “the effects on the respiratory epithelium” of both humans and aquatic life “exposed to this dispersant are largely unknown. ” (p. 2).

Ramseur (2015) notes that by November 2010, about half of the oil had “evaporated, dissolved, or been effectively removed from the Gulf environment through human activities” (p. 3). Yet over 100 million gallons “remained, in some form, in the Gulf” (p. ). Aftermath: Violations and Litigation In 2011, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued 15 Incidents of Non-Compliance (INC) to BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. All of the INC were issued under Title 30 Code of Federal Regulations, which concern Mineral Resources.

According to the BSEE (2011), 7 INC were issued to BP, including 30 CFR 250. 107(a)(1), that BP failed to “perform all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner,” 30 CFR 250. 300, BP did not take measures to “prevent unauthorized discharge of pollutants into offshore waters,” and 30 CFR 250. 20(a), that BP did not properly cement the well (17-10). Four INC were issued to Transocean, including 30 CFR 250. 401(a), that Transocean “failed to take necessary precautions to keep the well under control at all times” (916). Halliburton received 4 INC as well, including 30 CFR 250. 20(a)(1) and (2) that they “did not cement the well in a manner that would properly control formation pressures and fluids” (121).

A full list of the INC can be found in the Appendix. Ramseur (2015) also notes that on November 15, 2012 the DOJ reached a criminal penalty settlement with BP, who plead guilty o 11 felony counts of misconduct and was fined $4 billion, which was distributed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, the National Academy of Science, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund (p. ). A civil settlement between BP and the SEC was reached the same day, with BP paying $525 million for “civil securities fraud charges” (p. 9). Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, paid $1 billion in a civil settlement, and $400 million in criminal charges. Conclusion The Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 was one of the worst nvironmental disasters in American history.

The size and scope of vast quantities of crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico 5,000 feet under the surface cannot, perhaps, be fully comprehended. The accident was the result of carelessness, mismanagement, and disregard for safety protocols in the quest for profits. Often lost in the environmental disaster is the fact that 11 people were killed as the result of criminal negligence. While the disaster has faded from the headlines, the Gulf of Mexico continues to face more questions than answers regarding the long-term impact.

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