Final Report on the Causes of the Macondo Well Blowout
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 workers; the incident ultimately resulted in the release of some 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico from the Macondo well deep below on the ocean floor. The size and scope of the event — and the 87 days that followed when neither the company, BP, nor the U.S. government, could plug the gushing well on the ocean floor — riveted the nation and drew significant attention to practices in the offshore oil drilling industry. In the aftermath, many officials pledged to investigate the root causes and establish whether or not industry practices needed to be changed.
In September 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued a final assessment of the event, “Report Regarding the Causes of the April 20, 2010, Macondo Well Blowout” (PDF), which assesses responsibility for the explosion and concludes with a variety of technical recommendations to help improve safety in the industry.
The report’s main findings as they relate to culpability include:
- “The failure of the rig crew to stop work on the Deepwater Horizon after encountering multiple hazards and warnings was a contributing cause of the Macondo blowout.”
- “BP’s cost or time saving decisions without considering contingencies and mitigation were contributing causes of the Macondo blowout.”
- “BP’s failure to ensure all risks associated with operations on the Deepwater Horizon were as low as reasonably practicable was a contributing cause of the Macondo blowout.”
- “BP’s failure to have full supervision and accountability over the activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon was a contributing cause of the Macondo blowout.”
The investigators concluded that the spill was the “result of a series of decisions that increased risk and a number of actions that failed to fully consider or mitigate those risks. While it is not possible to discern which precise combination of these decisions and actions set the blowout in motion, it is clear that increased vigilance and awareness by BP, Transocean and Halliburton personnel at critical junctures during operations at the Macondo well would have reduced the likelihood of the blowout occurring.”
Tags: oceans, fossil fuels, pollution, disasters
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement's "Report Regarding the Causes of the April 20, 2010 Macondo Well Blowout."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article "Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours."
- What are the techniques and reportorial strategies that make this article a successful piece of journalism? How does it line up with the findings of the government report?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.