BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill
MBA 5100-01: Legal Environment
On April 20, 2010, the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) British Petroleum DEEPWATER HORIZON was dynamically-positioned at location 28o-44’ North 088 o-21’ West in the Mississippi Canyon Block 252 of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The MODU was performing drilling operations on the Macondo Well, which had been previously started by another vessel. That evening, a series of events began that would ultimately result in an explosion and fire, taking 11 lives, injuring 16 others, and ultimately cause ng the MODU to become severely crippled and sink.
The casualty resulted in a continuous flow of crude oil and other petrochemicals into the Gulf of Mexico for almost 3 months before the well was capped, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history and significant environmental damage to the Gulf of Mexico.The Gulf tragedy affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who live along the Gulf Coast or rely on the various economies associated with the Gulf of Mexico.
The DEEPWATER HORIZON catastrophic casualty was comprised of a number of events. The initial events included a loss of well control leading to a blowout, which were preceded by a number of risk-based decisions by the lessee and vessel operators.
WHAT CAUSED THE CATASTROPHE?
1. Failure to Use the Diverter Line:
When the drilling crew directed the uncontrolled well flow through the MGS, the high pressure exceeded the system’s capabilities and caused gas to discharge on the main deck. Alternatively, the crew could have directed the well flow through a “diverter line” (DEEPWATER HORIZON, 2010) designed to send the flow over the side of the MODU. Although the diverter line also may have failed under the pressure, had it been used to direct the flow overboard, the majority of the flammable gas cloud may have formed away from the Drill Floor and the MODU, reducing the risk of an onboard explosion.
2. Hazardous Electrical Equipment:
At the time of the explosions, the electrical equipment installed in the “hazardous” areas of the MODU (where flammable gases may be present) may not have been capable of preventing the ignition of flammable gas. Although DEEPWATER HORIZON was built to comply with IMO MODU Code standards under which such electrical equipment is required to have safeguards against possible ignition, an April 2010 audit found that DEEPWATER HORIZON lacked systems to properly track its hazardous electrical equipment, that some such equipment on board was in “bad condition” and “severely corroded,” (DEEPWATER HORIZON, 2010) and that a subcontractor’s equipment that was in “poor condition” had been left in hazardous areas. Because of these deficiencies, there is no assurance that the electrical equipment was safe could not have caused the explosions.
3. Gas Detectors:
Although gas detectors installed in the ventilation inlets and other critical locations were set to activate alarms on the bridge, they were not set to automatically activate the emergency shutdown (ESD) system for the engines or to stop the flow of outside air in to the engine rooms. The bridge crew was not provided training or procedures on when conditions warranted activation of the ESD systems. Thus, when multiple gas alarms were received on the bridge, no one manually activated the ESD system to shut down the main engines. Had it been activated immediately upon the detection of gas, it is possible that the explosions in the engine room area could have been avoided or delayed.
4. Bypassed Systems:
A number of gas detectors were bypassed or inoperable at the time of the explosions. According to the chief electronics technician, “it was standard practice to set certain gas detectors in inhibited” mode (DEEPWATER HORIZON, 2010), such that gas detection would be reported to the control panel but no alarm would sound, to prevent