Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

I. Introduction

The Deepwater Horizon incident was the largest marine oil spill in history. Located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf a Mexico, the oil rig “”Deepwater Horizon”” was owned by Transocean, who was under contract with BP (British Petroleum) for the initial drilling of oil wells. The cause of the catastrophic accident which took place in April of 2010 was the result of rushed decisions and shortcuts in an attempt to recover from losses incurred from being weeks behind schedule. In spite of the recommendations and concerns from Transocean employees aboard the rig, executives from BP wanted to move forward with the process. As a result the concerns of the oil rig crew became a reality when there was a high pressure gas leak resulting in an explosion aboard the rig.

The outcome of the incident affected crew members and their families, as well as wildlife, the environment and eco system. At the time of the explosion there was a crew consisting of 126 people aboard the rig, 11 of which perished during the explosion and evacuation of the rig. Two days after the explosion, it was discovered that the well was leaking into the ocean at a substantial rate, and at that time it was uncontainable. The oil well released what is estimated to be as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day, and 4.9 million barrels total. After numerous failed attempts the blow out was finally contained almost 4 months later.

II. Stakeholders

Aside from BP, there were numerous stakeholders that were impacted as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. To name a few, you could begin with; the oil rig workers and their families, the environment, the fishing industry, the oil industry, marine wildlife, and the tourism industry.

On the night of the explosion, April 20th, the families and friends of 11 of the team members of the Deepwater Horizon received the news that their family member, or friend would not be returning as a result of the incident. The impact from the crew and families as stakeholders point was; the unnecessary loss of lives, the loss of loved ones, and the loss of income needed to support their families, along with the burdens, grief, and hardships resulting from their deaths and injuries.

The environmental impacts of the oil spill was tremendous. Satellite images were gathered of the areas affected by the spill. The area covered by the oil slick was estimated it to be about 68,000 square miles, which is equivalent to the size of the state of Oklahoma. As of July 2011, about 491 miles of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were contaminated by oil. In 2013 more than 4,600,000 pounds of “”oiled material”” was removed just from the coastline of Louisiana. As we move forward to more recent times, scientist are still unable to estimate how much oil may still be present in the ocean waters, but most say that the Gulf of Mexico itself is finally free of any signs of oil being present. The effects could also be felt by the tourism industry. Beaches were closed while under cleanup efforts, and fishing charters were shut down. With the beaches closed, and concerns about the environment and water in the region, people were not vacationing in the states affected. Louisiana alone reported a loss of $32 million in funds that are typically generated through tourism and visitors of the state.

The leaked oil and sludge resulted in what is considered to be the largest marine wildlife mortality event to ever happen in the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated in 2010 alone, that as many as 65,000 affected turtles had died. In 2013 researchers conducted a health study on dolphins to see how they were reacting to the contaminated environment that they had been subjected to. They found that half of them were sick, most of which suffered from lung and adrenal disorders that were known to be linked to oil exposure. Another study conducted in 2014 showed that as many as 800,000 birds were believed to have died as a result of the after effects. Surviving animals that were found during the cleanup were transferred to rehabilitation centers. Once they were cleaned up and evaluated, they were released back into oil free areas of their natural habitat.

The commercial fishing industry also took a significant hit in the wake of the disaster. The spill area hosts 8,332 species, of which more than 1,200 of those species are fish, most of these species also spawn in the gulf area. After the incident, scientist were concerned that most of the fish and marine mammals would succumb to the effects of the toxic, contaminated waters. A 2014 study showed that larvae from important fish species in the commercial fishing industry, including tuna, were shown to have likely developed heart disease, such as irregular heartbeats which led to cardiac arrest. On May 24th, 2010, the federal government declared a fisheries disaster for the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Damages to the commercial fishing industry would top an estimated $2.5 billion, combined with the loss of 22,000 jobs, and people out of work after the closing of hatcheries due to the oil spill.

In addition to causing harmful effects to the environment, wildlife, and the economy, the spill also caused the intervention of government entities in order to prevent future incidents like this from occurring. Soon after the spill a moratorium on offshore oil well drilling was enacted by President Barrack Obama’s administrative team. The moratorium caused the temporary suspension of work aboard 33 oil rigs. Even though this was eventually overturned by a district court, it made a tremendous impact on the industry since about 318,000 people in the state of Louisiana are employed by the oil industry either directly or indirectly. This equated to about 17% of the state’s population. In addition to the moratorium, the oil industry faced additional investigations from other countries such as Canada. They found themselves in an area where politicians that back them prior to the incident, suddenly no longer provided their support. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the first when he withdrew his support on May 3rd, 2010 for the expansion of oil well drilling projects off the coast of California. Shortly afterward on July 8th, Florida Governor Charlie Christie requested that state legislatures draft an amendment to the state constitution banning offshore drilling in state waters. Governor Christie’s request was denied, but it showed clearly how the government was expressing concerns about the future of offshore drilling.

III. Direct Impact to BP

The outcome impacted BP in numerous ways. Not only did they face civil and criminal lawsuits, but their name has become synonymous with one of the greatest accidents that has ever impacted the environment, if not the greatest. When people think about oil spills, they immediately remember Deepwater Horizon and the part that BP played in it. Part of the reason behind people’s reaction came from how BP handled the negative press, and the fact that the incident most likely could have been prevented if they had not tried to “”cut corners”” and expedite the oil well drilling procedure. During investigations it was found that one of the reasons behind the failure was related to nitrogen being added to the concrete on the well cap. This procedure was used to speed the curing process of the concrete, unfortunately it also weakened the structural integrity of the concrete. Not to mentioned, they also neglected to heed the advice of veteran oil rig workers when the signs of a failure were present during the testing of the well.

An additional response to the accident was the opening of numerous investigations. These investigations looked into the procedures and policies to see what may have been negligently ignored, to see who was at fault, to ultimately find a way to provide remediation to those that had been effected by the spill, and to put measures into place to prevent this type of accident from happening again in the future.

Along with these investigations, BP also found themselves involved in numerous lawsuits. By May 26th of 2010, BP along with Transocean, Cameron International and Halliburton Energy had already been named in over 130 civil lawsuits. In time BP and the plaintiffs worked towards an agreement, and a partial settlement of $7.8 billion was approved for medical benefits.

Aside from the civil lawsuits, BP still had impending criminal lawsuits. In November of 2012, BP came to a resolution on the federal charges against them, and BP agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts related to the deaths of the 11 oil rig workers, and paid a $4 billion fine. In addition to the charges brought against the BP Company, four employees of BP were also charged. Kurt Mix, a BP engineer, was charged with obstructing justice for deleting messages showing that BP knew the flow rate of the well, and that the well would most likely fail, but did not communicate this with other parties involved with the process. Also included in the charges were Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, who were acting as site managers at the time of the incident. Vidrine and Kaluza were charged with manslaughter for acting negligently in their supervision of key safety tests performed on the rig prior to the explosion. Lastly, BP’s former vice-president for exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, David Rainey, was charged with obstruction by misrepresenting the rate that oil was flowing out of the well. None of the charges resulted in any time served for the employees involved.

The event, or at least the risk of the outcome could have been avoided on BP’s part if they would’ve allowed the contracted companies that were performing the work to do so, without the interference by and/or final decisions being made by BP employees. Once BP took the position that allowed them to make the final decisions, it placed a large amount of the burden on them. Large companies like BP can benefit from shifting the risk to companies by contracting specific work to companies that specialize in the work that they need to have performed. In this case BP was already using companies that were more than capable, however they elected to interfere and as a result the blame fell heavily upon them.

IV. My Thoughts

In closing, I feel there is no greater fault a business can show, then to be unethical. In this case the parties involved showed us that they were more concerned with making money, then they were with preserving the world that we live in. Not only did they endanger the local wildlife, and almost cause the extinction of some species of marine wildlife, they jeopardized people’s welfare in the form of financial losses, sickness and health related problems, and ultimately, the death of 11 individuals. Then, while being interviewed, top ranking BP officials downplayed the accident, and related the spill as being small compared to the vast size of the ocean.

I cannot speak for everyone, but I personally find it very difficult to trust a company like BP after seeing how the situation unfolded, and how it was handled afterward. I feel that they clearly showed no remorse, and proved without a doubt that they had more concern for their own financial gain instead of everyone else in the world. From an ethical standpoint I feel that they should’ve respected the input of the oil rig employees and ran additional tests, instead of pushing forward. They also showed signs of not caring when they were willing to compromise the structural integrity of the well caps by using an inferior product by using an accelerator to speed the curing process. If a company is willing to compromise the eco system and environment to make a dollar, they are a company that we could do just as well without. They clearly put their financial gain ahead of the health and well-being of others.

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