It wasn’t that long ago – ten years, to be exact – that BP (the Big Oil company formerly named British Petroleum) trashed the Gulf of Mexico in one of the worst-ever crude oil spills on record.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion aboard BP-contracted Transocean Ltd Deepwater Horizon oil rig stationed in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 of the 126 workers aboard the oil rig.
Two days later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank beneath the Gulf waves under an oil slick forming on the surface. At the time, it wasn’t clear if the leak came from the rig or from the underwater well it was tapping – or both.
On April 24, the United States Coast Guard reported that the underwater well was leaking an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil a day. Four days after that, the Coast Guard quintupled its estimate to 210,000 gallons of oil spilled daily in the Gulf waters.
President Barack Obama toured areas affected by the oil spill and assessed containment efforts on May 2. Two days later, on May 4, the edges of the oil slick washed up on the Louisiana shoreline.
It took three weeks for BP to formulate and implement a containment plan. All the while hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil were gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. On May 26, the company began a procedure called “top kill,” which tried to plug the well by pumping enough mud down into it to stop the upward pressure from the oil and clear space to install a cement cap.
By that time, the spill was estimated to be twice as big as the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaskan waters on March 24, 1989.
Halliburton performed the cementing work to plug the well and had advised using “substantially more mud” as a drill line counterweight compared to BP’s recommendation.
Project Top Kill proceeded in fits and starts, much to the public’s dismay at the delayed progress. In an interview on CNN’s John King, USA show, BP’s COO Doug Suttles explained what was causing the hold-ups:
“When we did the initial pumping (Wednesday), we clearly impacted the flow of the well. We then stopped to monitor the well. Based on that, we restarted again. We didn’t think we were making enough progress after we restarted, so we stopped again.”
The corporate chief operating officer offered this feeble explanation as to why Americans were being kept in the dark about goings-on in the Gulf:
“I probably should apologize to folks that we haven’t been giving more data on that. It was nothing more than we are so focused on the operation itself.”
Ultimately, the attempt to cap the BP spill failed and the underwater well gushed on, pouring toxic waste into the fragile eco-system of the southern U.S. coastline between Louisiana and Florida.
On June 16, BP agreed to set up a $20 billion fund to assist oil spill victims.
On July 5, tar balls from the oil spill washed up on the shores of Texas.
Five days later, on July 10, BP removed an old containment cap from the well to install a new one. Oil flowed freely for two days until installation of the replacement cap was completed on July 12.
July 15, 2010, was a landmark day for BP executives who claimed they had stopped the outpouring of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
On August 3, BP began an operation to “static kill” (seal permanently) its offshore oil well. Thad Allen, the national incident commander of the Unified Command for the BP oil spill, stated that the procedure would “virtually assure us there’s no chance of oil leaking into the environment.”
Fast forward to January 11 of the next year – 2011. A full report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling concluded that the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history, amounting to 168 million gallons (about 4 million barrels).
The final federal report issued September 14, 2011, on the Gulf oil spill named BP, Transocean, and Halliburton as sharing responsibility for the deadly explosion that caused the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
On January 26, 2012, a federal judge in New Orleans decided that the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig (Transocean) was not liable for compensatory damages sought by third parties. Five days later, Halliburton was let off the liability hook as well.
On March 2, BP announced reaching a settlement of about $7.8 billion with attorneys representing thousands of businesses and individuals damaged by the 2010 oil spill.
Criminal charges followed, alleging that BP employees deleted evidence in the form of text messages and emails. BP pled guilty to charges of manslaughter due to the rig explosion with $4.5 billion in government penalties.
On October 5, 2015, BP agreed to pay over $20 billion to settle claims related to its lethal oil spill. This made history as the largest settlement since the formation of the U.S. Department of Justice.