USA's Largest Oil Spill

Project Failures: USA’s Largest Oil Spill

May 31, 2016 by

On the 20th of April, 2010, there was an explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil well located in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion proved fatal as it took the lives of 11 people working on the rig, from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 17 others were injured.

After the explosion, the well began to leak. It quickly turned into a national disaster. Over 200 million gallons of crude oil was pumped into the Gulf of Mexico over a total of 87 days – the biggest oil spill in the USA’s history.

The oil polluted nearby shores including the coastlines of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Over 8,000 animals were reported dead just 6 months after the spill including many who were already on the endangered species list.

Not only did this project fail horribly, it took 11 human and thousands of animal lives as a result.


The Project

The Deepwater Horizon was a ‘9-year-old semi-submersible, mobile, floating, dynamically-positioned drilling rig that could operate in waters up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) deep.’

It was built by the South Korean company Hyundai Heavy Industries and owned by Transocean. The rig was chartered to British Petroleum from 2008 to 2013.

The purpose of the drill was, of course, to identify and extract oil from the earth’s natural oil reservoirs. Little did British Petroleum know, this rig would make front page headlines as the cause of one of the world’s worst oil spillages.


Why it Failed

There were three main contributing factors to the failure of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well:

  1. Equipment failures
  2. Poor testing and safety measures
  3. Poor risk management plan.


Ultimately, the explosion was caused by a well integrity failure which was followed by a loss of control of the pressure of the fluid in the well. This loss of control caused the explosion. Usually, certain devices stop this from happening. On this particular rig, these devices failed, resulting in a fiery explosion and almost a dozen meaningless deaths. But why did this equipment malfunction?

Poor testing and safety measures were apparently the root cause of the equipment failure. BP lacked the structures needed to safely carry out this project. A damning report concluded that “as a result of a cascade of deeply flawed failure and signal analysis, decision-making, communication, and organizational – managerial processes, safety was compromised to the point that the blowout occurred with catastrophic effects.”

Further reports suggested BP’s risk management plan contained many errors and miscalculations


Lessons Learned

Manage your risks and put in efficient structures to deal with whatever might come your way. BP failed to do this and felt the wrath of a failed project that took the lives of almost a dozen of their workers. If you fail to plan ahead for what might topple your project, you might well be planning to fail.

Ruairi O'Donnellan

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