Our History: The Deepwater Horizon disaster

Our History: The Deepwater Horizon disaster
May 21, 2024

On April 20, 2010, an explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers were killed by the blast and subsequent fire, which caused the largest oil spill in the history of marine oil drilling operations.

About 134 million gallons of oil flowed from the damaged Macondo well over an 87-day period before it was finally capped on July 15.

Eight months after the disaster, an analysis based on interviews, sworn testimony and thousands of documents could be summarized thusly:

“What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.”

Transocean owned the rig and leased it to BP, which was operating it at the time of the disaster. BP had hired Halliburton to cement the ill-fated well. All three companies, along with federal regulators, came in for heavy criticism in the aftermath.

On May 30, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar declared a moratorium on deepwater drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Then-Sen. Mary Landrieu mounted a defense of the industry on the Senate floor.

“For advocates that say we can’t afford to drill off of our coast, then what coast should we drill off of?” Landrieu said. “Should we have all of our oil coming 100 percent from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Honduras or West Africa?”

In 2016, the courts approved a settlement worth up to $8.8 billion with BP for natural resources damage stemming from the spill, the largest civil settlement ever awarded. The award provided funding for major projects, including the controversial Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.

This piece first ran in the April 18, 2024 edition of LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you could have read it then? Subscribe today!

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