BP’s Macondo Blow-out, Gulf of Mexico

Posted: October 17th, 2013





BP’s Macondo Blow-out, Gulf of Mexico

The BP oil spill, also referred to as the Macondo blowout, Mexico oil spill, and the BP oil disaster, was an oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico whose flow unabated a period lasting three months. In the petroleum industry history, this has been established as the largest marine oil spill. The oil spill came from an oil gusher in the sea floor that was sparked by a deepwater horizon explosion. The explosion tragedy was responsible for the death of eleven workers and seventeen fatalities. The wellhead emitting the oil was eventually capped, but devastating damage had already been done.

An approximated 55,000 barrels of oil stemmed from the well every day before it was capped. However, the daily rate of flow diminished with time as the hydrocarbons reservoir supplying the oil gusher became gradually depleted. The oil well was declared “effectively dead” by the federal government when the process of sealing the well was completed successfully on September 2010. The Macondo blowout resulted in devastating damaged to wildlife and marine habitats, as well as the tourism and fishing industries in the Gulf of Mexico (Achenbach, 19). Anchored barriers, skimmer ships, dispersants, and sand filled barricades were all used in efforts of shielding vast masses of estuaries, beaches, and wetlands from oil damage. Scientists further reported that dissolved oil plumes had been detected suggesting that damage had also extended underwater.

The deepwater horizon included a nine-year-old submersible offshore drilling-unit, a floating drilling rig capable of operating in waters up to eight thousand feet deep and drill up to thirty thousand feet (9000 m). The rig was constructed by Hyundai Heavy Industries Company. Ownership of the rig rested with Transocean operated under the Marshallese convenience. BP entered into a contract with Transocean for leasing the rig from 2008 to 2013. At the time when the rig exploded, drilling action was taking place at an exploratory well at an approximated water depth of five thousand feet in the Macondo prospect situated at Block 252 Mississippi Canyon of the Mexico Gulf about forty miles off the Louisiana coast (Webber, 27). BP was established as the principle developer and operator of the Macondo prospect with sixty percent shares. The remaining forty percent shares rested with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

On 20 April 2010 approximately 10:00 pm, high-pressured methane gas stemming from the oil well rose to the rig’s drilling riser and consequently making its way to the drilling rig that triggered ignition and explosion thus engulfing the entire drilling rig. Most of the workers managed to escape the rig by means of lifeboat where they were subsequently airlifted by helicopter or evacuated by boat for medical treatment. However, despite search operation by the coastguard lasting three days, finding eleven remaining workers was futile. They were believed to have succumbed to the flames from the explosion (Jernelöv, 27). Multiple ships attempted to extinguish the flames but were unsuccessful. The oilrig burnt for more than thirty-six hours before it sank on 22 April.

BP released a report of the eleven workers who succumbed to the tragedy. These include Martin Rodrigueze, Michael Roy Smith, Jonathan Woodgate, Keith Sutherland, and Stefan Musachio all who had engineering occupations at the rig. Solomon Sanders, Nelson Bates, Thomas Ceasar, and Tim O’Neal all worked as quality inspectors at the rig. James Oladokan worked as a human resource trainer, and Nathan Dyer held the occupation of marine diving. The tragedy could have been avoided if the oilrig had implemented the use of a blowout preventer system. This system is designed for controlling the well in case the flow of hydrocarbons goes beyond the constructed barriers in the course of the drilling operations. The activation of the system can be triggered from inside the rig to seal an exposed well bore, cut the drill pipe to seal the well, or close the well around the casing or drill pipe.

BP on 5 July 2010 reported that it had incurred expenditures of 3.15 billions dollars in liability of response measures, relief well drilling, containment, claims paid, grants made to the states in the Gulf, and federal costs. The oil pollution Act in the United States maintained that BP’s liability to non-cleaning costs limited to seventy five million dollars unless proof of negligence is established. Nevertheless, BP maintained that it would own up to all expenses of cleaning up the oil spill and remediation regardless of whether proof of negligence was provided or not. By September’s end, BP had incurred an expenditure of eleven billion dollars. The company’s third out of four annual profit of 1.9 billion dollars showed that the company was doing well and was capable of catering for the entire costs estimated at forty billion dollars (Jernelöv, 41). The company sourced its funding for the oil cleanup from its cash reserves and resources. BP gas stations reported reduced gasoline sales due to social backlash subjected to the company.

In the oil spill’s aftermath, assessment over damage made to resources began and took significant time to complete. The oil spill stemmed over 4.5 million barrels and scientists maintained that effects from the spill might affect the Mexican Gulf for decades. The intensive coverage from the media shifted from the impact of the oil spill to questions regarding the parties in charge of the oil well, delayed emergency efforts, the environment’s ability to recover, culpability of involved companies, and federal oversight laxity.

Before OPA 90 was passed, it was not clear whom among various local officials, private parties, and the federal state has responsibility for taking response measures in case of a significant oil spill. The remedy of this scenario was provided by OPA 90 that clearly states the federal governments as having primary responsibility of taking immediate control for ensuring appropriate measures are employed in an orderly and timely fashion. In this case, responsibility of the federal government goes to the EPA in case of land oil spills and the coast guard in case of marine oil spills such as BP’s Macondo Blow-out (Webber, 52). According to OPA 90, the coast guard in this case was charged with the responsibility of controlling the response measures of the oil spill as well as designating parties behind the oil spill, and hence the parties liable for the costs incurred for the cleaning up after the tragedy.

The coast guard assumed responsibility over controlling the response measures at the oil spill but the fact that the coast guard was in charge was never the media’s perception. This related to the premise that BP was taken by OPA 90 to represent the responsible party and thus shared the responsibility of managing the oil spill. The responsible party to a marine facility includes “the permittee or lessee of the location where the facility is located”. Therefore, it was clear from the onset that the responsible parties were BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and the two companies had no choice but to accept liability. In addition, Secretaries Salazar and Napolitano both sent letters to BP on MAY 15 IN 2010 reiterating that the companies were to take responsibility of the spill. BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation were liable for cleaning up after the spill as well as all economic costs incurred by the tragedy. OPA 90 requires that responsible parties be liable for costs of cleaning up after the oil spill, damages, penalties, and requires parties given orders by the coast guard to undertake remedial measures for containing the spill and conducting removal operations.

While the coast guard lacks skilled technicians and personnel in the faculty of deep-water drilling, it however has been endowed with the authority to requisition skilled personnel and equipment from relevant industry including the party responsible for the oil spill and put them to response measures of blowout. Consistent with OPA 90, it was prudent that BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation remain within the site in the entire duration of the blow out. Albeit their personnel being assisted by other skilled personnel that the coast guard assigned, BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation were obligated to carry out directions from the coast guard in measures of bringing the blowout under control. Primarily, Halliburton served as the cement contractor to BP Company for the Macondo rig. The culpability of Halliburton in this accident was established to amount to about one billion dollars.

Companies in the United States that endeavor in marine drilling operations assemble teams of drilling contractors, consultants and service companies; each playing its contributory role in technical expertise. The division of expertise and complex structure pose a challenge for oil and gas industry management. Therefore, the implications associated with this activity prompt exercising safety margins to eliminate or reduce events such as those that occurred at Macondo (Webber, 75). Subsequent investigations established that failures in technical areas that led to the tragedy at Macondo were traced to processes in management. Industry representatives observed that companies engaging in activities of this nature have a tendency of neglecting comprehensive systems for addressing safety. Furthermore, the report submitted by the industry representatives revealed that companies involved with the deepwater horizon disaster at Macondo failed to provide an approach to effective safety system to commensurate the risks of oil well drilling.

In this regard, the representatives established recommendations for the oil drilling industry, identifying measures for decreasing the chances as well as mitigation of the impact of blowouts in future. Because operating companies such as BP are the only ones capable of viewing and controlling all activities of respective oil drilling, they should foster ultimate accountability and responsibility for the design and construction of the well. This should also include the assessment of suitability of the safety equipment and drilling rig (Webber, 87). The company overseeing the drilling activity has to be accountable and responsible for safe operation of marine oil drilling. Since the accident at the Macondo deepwater horizon, relevant improvements have been recommended for safety and management systems employed by companies engaging in marine oil drilling as well as regulatory regime.


Works Cited

Achenbach, Joel. A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the Bp Oil Gusher. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Jernelöv, A. “The Threats from Oil Spills: Now, Then, and in the Future.” Ambio. 39 (2010). Print.

Skogdalen, J.E, I.B Utne, and J.E Vinnem. “Developing Safety Indicators for Preventing Offshore Oil and Gas Deepwater Drilling Blowouts.” Safety Science. 49 (2011): 1187-1199. Print.

Webber, Roland. The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling : Recommendations. Washington, D.C.: National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 2011. Print.



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