Lessons From Disaster: What We’ve Learned About Safety From the Deepwater Horizon

In September 2016, Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, and John Malkovich will star in the movie dramatization of a global tragedy: the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. However, although this film is meant to entertain moviegoers, it also does its part in reminding the world of the catastrophic dangers and risks oil rigs pose for both workers and the environment.

The Tragedy

On April 20, 2010, the British Petroleum (BP) vessel christened “Deepwater Horizon” caught fire while drilling on the Macondo exploration well in the Gulf of Mexico. The fire led to a section of the rig exploding, fatally injuring eleven workers and severely injuring seventeen more. The fire continued to rage for two days after the deadly blast and eventually caused the rig to capsize and sink.

Unfortunately, the tragic turn of events didn’t stop once the rig settled into its watery grave.

As it sank, the Deepwater Horizon tore away from the entrance to the oil well and caused it to break open. As a result, an estimated 3,654,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled into the Gulf over a period of 87 days—the time it took for the breach to be successfully capped. Oil was scattered over more than 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. The accident has been named as one of the worst offshore oil rig disasters in history for its effects on the environment as well as for the sad state of affairs that have been brought to light for the safety of offshore workers.

What Went Wrong?

A great deal of research has been collected to determine the cause of the Deepwater tragedy, as well as what needs to be done in the future to prevent such situations from occurring again. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) conducted a thorough investigation into the accident and concluded the following:

  • Prior to the explosion, the rig lost control of its coupling with the entrance to the well. The resulting gaps allowed oil fumes, gas, and hydrocarbons to be released.
  • The expelled fumes found an ignition source on the rig, triggering the initial fire and explosion.
  • The explosion most likely caused the drill pipe to buckle, keeping the blind shear ram (the last-resort safety device) from sealing the well. Previous investigations thought the drill pipe buckled days after the blowout was underway. However, the CSB says that there was a big difference between the pressure on the inside and outside of the drill pipe during the explosion—called effective compression—which caused it to buckle outside the effective reach of the ram.
  • When the sealing precaution devices failed to work, fumes and oil continuously fed the fire until the rig sank, while also allowing the well to spill copious amounts of oil into the Gulf.

What Have We Learned?

Following six years of exhaustive investigations and impact studies, a lot has been discovered about the Deepwater Horizon and what went wrong. This research has led to a deeper understanding of oil rig safety as well as the need for precautionary measures to prevent accidents. For instance, some of the things learned include the need to improve the following:

  • Disaster training. The loss of control which led to the well entrance gap is a serious issue that needs attention. Crew members must be trained to reestablish control and correct errors before a disaster occurs. Furthermore, workers must be trained to handle dangerous situations to protect the rig, other crew members, and themselves.
  • Rig safety. As a result of the explosion, investigations into how to contain oil rig fires has become a priority. In addition to improved safety measures like sprinkler systems and firefighting gear, an improved rig design to limit fume exposure and ignition points is essential and needs to be further explored.
  • Rescue response. BP, Transocean, and Halliburton employees were grossly uncoordinated and negligently informed about responsibility and safety. Additionally, there was no firm contingency plan developed by these companies or the U.S. Coast Guard on what should happen in the event of an emergency. Although the evacuation of over 150 workers was successful before the rig sank, the 27 workers whose lives were either extinguished or irreparably damaged should have been more protected.
  • Clean-up response. It took BP nearly three months to stop the well from spilling oil. This prolonged period of failure has caused irreversible damage to the environment, as well as raised concern over the ability for oil companies to contain spills in remote areas like Alaska. Due to the risk and concern for clean-up responses, a reassessment is underway about whether drilling in ice-covered regions of the Arctic poses too great of a financial and technical risk.
  • Environmental safety. Perhaps the best single result of Deepwater Horizon—from an environmental standpoint—is that the necessity for environmental regulations and improved clean-up plans is now being discussed and taken seriously. The world cannot (and should not) endure another oil spill as large as the Deepwater Horizon.

Hindsight Fails to Erase the Consequences

Though it might be easy to forget, the victims and their families are still trying to cope with the loss that the Transocean explosion caused. Although we’ve learned a lot about safety going forward, it doesn’t help those who were left behind. After six years, the families of those who were killed continue to deal with the loss of their loved ones, while others are still reeling from serious injuries caused by the incident. They have even been pressured to sign papers by the maritime companies, and Transocean has already made attempts to limit its liability.

If you or a loved one is a victim of an oil rig accident similar to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, you may be entitled to injury compensation and should consider filing a claim. Keep in mind that this could prove a difficult process, especially in light of the fact that these companies are making attempts to limit their liability. However, a well-versed offshore attorney will have the resources and moxie to fight these companies head on.

Don’t allow your future to drown in medical debt—stay afloat by seeking the legal advice of Attorney Steve Lee. Your financial security could depend on it.

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