The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (the BP Oil Spill) is regarded as the largest oil spill in the History of the United States. The spill occurred in 2010 after the $340 million deepwater drilling rig operated by Transocean exploded and led to the uncontrolled release of oil and gas for 87 days (Jacobs, 2016). According to Boebert & Blossom (2016), the explosion led to 11 lives, several injuries, and extensive environmental and economic losses. British Petroleum (BP) Company had hired Transocean to drill the well for $1 million per day (Jacobs, 2016).
After the explosion, efforts to stop the spillage of oil on the seafloor were unfruitful for months. So far, BP has spent billions of dollars in compensation for damages and cleanup initiatives. Poor good designs, the exclusion of a cement bond log, failure to use a lockdown sleeve, and the inclusion of insufficient centralizers were some of the reasons cited for the explosion.
Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, and BP Oil Company commissioned the drilling. On April 20, 2010, a blast of natural gas ripped a newly-erected concrete core that would be used after completing the project to cover the well (Boebert & Blossom, 2016). According to reports, the seats were too weak to withstand the pressure exerted on the wall by the oil and gas. The gas rose up the rig and ignited, causing an explosion that led to the deaths of 11 workers (Fingas, 2015). The force of the blast capsized and sank the rig, leading to oil spillage as the riser erupted due to mounting pressure (Boebert & Blossom, 2016).
The discharge of the drilling mud released the pressure, and the spillage began. Efforts to stop the flow were unsuccessful for months, and it is estimated that about 1,000 barrels of oil were released into the seafloor daily (Boebert & Blossom, 2016). An attempt by BP to activate the rig’s blowout preventer (BOP) failed, and the spill continued. The oil flow extended over thousands of miles on the Gulf of Mexico, and the decision to seal the rig alleviated the problem and commenced the cleanup efforts.
Immediate Environmental Impacts
The spill had severe environmental consequences because the oil spread both on the surface and in deep water. The oil was poisonous to several types of organisms that inhabited the area. For instance, birds, plankton, marine invertebrates, sea mammals, and fish were adversely affected (Fingas, 2015). The adverse effects that were observed include high rates of mortality, impaired reproduction, development of diseases, poor physiological health, and decelerated growth (Boebert & Blossom, 2016). Saltmarsh ecosystems, deep-sea corals, shorebirds, dolphins, sea turtles, and beach sand habitats were destroyed. The fish developed lesions and cardiac arrest, marine life was smothered due to oxygen lack, and millions of birds died (Fingas, 2015). Pregnant dolphins developed in-utero infections and pregnancy complications.
Long-term Environmental Impacts
Many years after the disaster, the spill still has environmental effects that are projected to extend into the future. The number of dolphins has not stabilized, and certain bird species have not returned to the region. For instance, the number of birds in Cat Island is low because the mangroves that provide shelter have not grown back (Boebert & Blossom, 2016). Some surveys suggest that the oil that settled on the seafloor has formed thin layers and pools in different areas that could have long-term effects on marine ecosystems. A 2014 study funded by Stanford University and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that the toxic substances contained in oil have the potential to cause cardiac arrest (Boebert & Blossom, 2016).
The study found out that the cardiotoxicity caused by PAH could be harmful to many species within the vicinity of the region affected by the spill (Fingas, 2015). The cleanup involved the use of an oil dispersant known as Corexit. In that regard, large quantities of oil emulsified into tiny droplets and settled on the seafloor. This oil is likely to negatively affect marine organisms and the ecosystem for many years. Moreover, toxic substances that entered the food chain through zooplankton could have long-term effects (Fingas, 2015).
Measures to Prevent Similar Incidents in the Future
After the spill, President Obama created a commission that would study the fall and offer recommendations on mitigation measures. As a result, the commission proposed new safety rules and accountability standards. In addition, they recommended the environmental regulation for drilling activities in US waters. The President signed another executive order (13547) to promote the stewardship of the ocean, the costs, and the great lakes. It adopted the proposals of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and established the National Ocean Council (Fingas, 2015). However, in 2018, President Trump replaced the stewardship directive with a new executive order that gave more power to states and advocates for the prioritization of business interests over environmental conservation (Associated Press, 2019).
Several environmental advocacy groups and activists have gone to court to oppose Trump’s move to remove some of Obama’s directives. The President has stated that some of the statutes are unnecessary because they are hurting the industry (Associated Press, 2019). Opponents of the executive order argue that the replacement of the stewardship directive could lead to another disaster as the monitoring of drilling companies will be compromised.
Other measures to avert future oil spills include the implementation of more stringent safety requirements and drilling permit reviews, as well as frequent and thorough environmental reviews by drilling companies (Griffin, Black, & Devine, 2015). The Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule prevents similar disasters from occurring by requiring companies to upgrade their drilling technologies and practices. For instance, they are expected to add backup safety mechanisms.
Applicable Statutes or Regulations
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Pollution Prevention Act are two examples of applicable statutes with regard to the BP oil spill. Despite their existence, the explosion occurred because they were inadequate in their scope of preventing environmental pollution. NEPA promotes the protection of the environment. It was enacted in 1970, and it established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) (Kubasek & Silverman, 2013).
Months prior to the disaster, CEQ added four steps to the regulation to modernize it. A few months later, BP relied on the Mineral’s management Service’s NEPA policies and procedures to begin drilling activities in the Gulf of Mexico. It is evident that the regulation was inadequate. A Careful evaluation of the NEPA process revealed that the use of categorical exclusions was challenging. The categorical exclusions used in granting BP a drilling permit were outdated because they were established when deepwater drilling was rare and less complex (Jacobs, 2016). It is essential for EPA to review the use of categorical exclusions in new deepwater drilling, especially for the exploration of oil and gas. Moreover, drillers should be provided with all the necessary environmental analysis and reviews to guide their activities.
The PPA advocates for the source-reduction of pollution through cost-effective operations and the proper use of raw materials (Kubasek & Silverman, 2013). The regulation was inadequate because the oil spill happened due to BP’s cost-cutting changes in operations that compromised human safety and violated engineering ethics. EPA should implement more stringent policies to govern the implementation of cost-cutting measures based on the risk magnitude of projects.
The “Polluter Pays Principle” is a widely accepted regulation that individuals and companies that pollute the environment should shoulder the burden of its management in order to prevent damages to the environment or to human health (Kubasek & Silverman, 2013). This principle applies to the most critical pollution control laws in the US. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has argued that the statute is only partially covered in in-laws and programs aimed at protecting the environment (Jacobs, 2016). This principle was applied in the BP oil spill because the company funded the cleanup process and paid damages to affected individuals and businesses. After a 2015 court hearing, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines that would be divided among the states for cleanup programs (Boebert & Blossom, 2016).
The penalties covered various areas: $7.1 billion for natural resource damage assessment and $5.5 billion for water pollution as stipulated in the Clean Water Act (Jacobs, 2016). The precautionary principle is applied in risk management to assess discretionary decisions in events that have the potential for harm. According to the code, individuals have a social responsibility to protect the public from liability in cases where a plausible risk is inherent (Kubasek & Silverman, 2013). Transocean and BP had a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm because their project posed several dangers to the environment and human health in case it failed.
The BP oil spill went down in history as the most destructive engineering and environmental disaster that had far-reaching effects on the environment and human health. Negligence, violation of engineering ethics, and the need to cut costs led to an explosion that killed 11 people, destroyed ecosystems, and brought adverse economic ramifications. The pollution caused by the oil and the dispersants used during the cleanup process caused both immediate and long-term effects.
Millions of birds died, marine life was smothered, toxic substances in the oil-polluted the water, pregnancy complications were seen with dolphins, and the mortality of organisms was unprecedented. Long-term effects include reduced growth, emulsification of oil on the seafloor, and the disappearance of certain animal species. The disaster occurred regardless of the existence of regulations to protect the environment.
Associated Press. (2019). Trump eases regulations adopted after BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Guardian. Web.
Boebert, E., & Blossom, J. M. (2016). Deepwater Horizon: A systems analysis of the Macondo disaster. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Fingas, M. (Ed.). (2015). Handbook of oil spill science and technology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Griffin, D., Black, N., & Devine, C. (2015). Five years after the Gulf oil spill: What we do (and don’t know). CNN. Web.
Jacobs, D. (2016). BP blowout: Inside the Gulf oil disaster. Washington, DC: Brooking Institution Press.
Kubasek, N. K., & Silverman, G. S. (2013). Environmental Law (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.