Expert Commentary

Final report on the causes of BP’s Macondo Well blowout

2011 final report from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement on British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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,” 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

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