Deepwater Horizon, the largest oil environmental disaster in history

Credits: NASA.

The disaster of Deepwater Horizonwhich occurred on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, it is among the most serious accidents ever recorded and still remains the largest oil disaster in history, still etched in the memories of many. A methane bubble in the drill pipe of the Deepwater Horizon mobile platform caused a fire that caused the largest oil release ever in history, lasting 80 days after 780,000 m3 of spilled oil.

The environmental disaster of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform: what happened

The Deepwater Horizon platform was a mobile structure, managed by the multinational oil company British Petroleum (BP) in the 2000s, but owned by the Transocean company.

This rig had been drilling an exploratory well for a few months, a 1500 meters deep and about 60 km from the coast from the Louisiana.
At 7.45pm a first leak of water and mud from the drilling pipe was quickly followed by a methane bubblewhich dispersed on the platform caused a series of explosions and the trigger a fire that would reveal itself indomitable. After a couple of days, the balance of the accident stopped with the sinking of the platform and the death of 11 workers, often forgotten by the media in the face of the enormity of the environmental disaster.

The events of that evening led in fact to largest oil release into the sea never happened, estimated at 780,000 m3and blocked with the closure of the well only 80 days after the accident.

The causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident: why the explosion occurred

The circumstances that favored the disaster have been highlighted by numerous journalistic investigations: delays in the works, strong pressure to reduce costs and postponed inspections were daily bread for BP, which in the period 2007-2010 collected well 760 OSHA violations (the US government body for workplace safety).

The lack of attention in the management of the platform was also highlighted during the subsequent trials, with charges of manslaughter against the two supervisors of the platform, subsequently dropped following legal agreements and depositions in other proceedings.

deepwater horizon oil platform
An image of the Deepwater Horizon platform

One of the worst violations made to stay within budget was the use of inadequate safety valves or poorly maintained, which were therefore unable to stop the leaks immediately.

The release of oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico: the oil spill

Efforts to block the release of oil were successful only after two and a half months of work: in the meantime, enormous quantities of fossil oil were transported, polluting stretches of coast for 7000 km, causing immediate impacts for local fauna but also contamination of the seabed by the heavier components. Again in 2020, a study highlighted appreciable values ​​of hydrocarbons in various fish species, albeit at levels considered safe for human consumption and probably also caused by the processing of the hundreds of other platforms still in operation.

The huge release and proven negligence led to the conviction of BPforced to pay compensation of more than 50 billion dollars for the immense clean-up work and compensation to the states involved and to the companies and people affected by the oil spill.

crude oil damage animals
The effects on fauna of the release of enormous quantities of crude oil.

The political management of environmental disaster and the consequences on the ecosystem

Apart from the expensive compensation, however, from the point of view of environmental Protection things don't seem to have changed: the pressure from lobbyists on the US government have held back the introduction of limitations or new laws on oil exploration and extraction, with theRepublican administration Trump at the forefront of making the commission established by the precedent Democratic President Obama.

There safety of thousands of peopleOf entire ecosystems and the stability of local economies have therefore once again been left in the hands of private companies, the same ones responsible for the great disasters of recent history: in the USA as in other parts of the world, unfortunately, our thirst for oil will continue to put us at risk immense and incalculable damage.

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