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BP Deepwater Horizon / Macondo

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Introduction:

BP is an oil company. It is the third largest energy-producing corporation in the world. The company’s headquarter is in the United Kingdom. BP is responsible for production and processing of oil. BP also markets, distributes, and sells refined products all over the world (Scholastic 2010 p.38). There have been several oil spills within the past decade. These have been extremely hazardous and dangerous to ordinary people and marine life. The one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst. Szado reported, “It was the start of what is now the worst man-made environmental disaster in United States history”. This is because of the effects that affect the environment and human life during and after the spill. The harm caused by the oil spill still affects the environment.

Summary:

BP extended its platform to the Gulf of Mexico. In April 20’ 2010, there was an explosion at deep water horizon at the shore of Louisiana. The well that was being worked on allowed hydrocarbons to be drawn in with the oil. This followed by a huge fire on the site which turned to be a serious explosion. The fire spread for over 36 hours and caused the rig to sink due to the hydrocarbons (Deepwater horizon accidental investigation team 2010 p. 10). The oil kept on spreading for another three months, about 87 days causing a lot of harm to the surrounding. 5,000 feet below there was a heavy flow of crude oil at 1000 barrels per day.         

This happened after the device meant to direct the oil flow failed and blew off.  Eleven people died, and seventeen others were seriously injured. This fateful event was due to poor management of the oil company that was responsible for the extraction activity in the Gulf of Mexico (Crooks 2011 p.1). Several teams were commissioned to investigate on the oil spill immediately. What could have been the causative factors that led to the spill? What were the effects of the gulf oil spill to the environment? This report will discuss on the causative factors and effects of the disastrous oil spill. The discussion will also include the charges and recommendations by the environmentalist.

The oil spill:

Before the spill, some events were taking place at the site in preparation for the drill of oil. The Transocean and Halliburton OptiCem were responsible of the changes at the site. The two companies had approved steps that were taking place before the accident happened. There were several shortcomings seen during the trial times at the drilling point. On the 19th before the incident, circulation pressure was 340psi. This did not match with the modeling pressure results that were 570psi (Deepwater horizon accidental investigation team 2010 p. 23). At 19.30 hours, a failure occurred. The bottom plug disk did not withstand the pressure. The disk ruptured due to a high pressure of 2900 psi.

This was corrected and sealed but a leak of 5 bbl. of fluid was noted. It was then followed by two successive tests on the pressure before continuing with the drill. A few hours later, fluctuation of pressure was noted again which was again higher than the kill line pressure. This failure caused a leakage of sea water and mud into the drill line to about 15 bbl of sea water. The mud contained sea sand that had hydrocarbons which reached the riser.

Other successful controls were done after this leakage. However, more mud and water seemed to leak into the drill line every time the crew tried the system again. The fluctuation of pressure was too high. They led to the off balance of the pumps. Unfortunately, the pumps failed and gave way to the high pressure. Efforts to close the pumps were futile. They first alarm of hissing gas came in at 21.46 hours. Pressure rose to 5730psi. The main power generator over sped, and the rig power went off. This was followed by the first blast after power loss (Deepwater horizon accidental investigation team 2010 p.28).  After the blast, 115 workers were transferred from the site to safety. These included the 17 people injured from the blast. At this point, 11 people were missing. Effort to stop the leakage was fruitless. On the 22nd, the deep water horizon sank. Seventeen attempts by ROV to close down the well were unsuccessful, mean-while the well kept on leaking.

The oil spilt from two key points that were over one hundred meters apart. Later most of the oil leaked from the blowout preventer. The leakage was a mixture of gas and oil. The oil spread to the environment 100 miles ashore in Louisiana and Alabama with floating tar balls. The first two attempts to stop the leakage failed. 20,000 barrels of oil leaked at the floor of the sea every day. In July, a cap that was permanently sealed with cement at the wellhead stopped the flow. Further survey showed that most of the oil leakage reached the surface of the sea. The remaining amount either dissolved in the water or remained at the floor of the sea. The minimum floating oil estimated between 66,000-120,000 bbl. The average estimate of the oil leakage by May 17, 2010 was over 1.6 million bbl. from the well. Most of the gases released especially methane is thought to have dissolved into the water (Bill, Sky & Possolo 2010 p. 10).

The spread of oil in the sea water was a factor of the size of oil droplets. The large droplets of oil spread at a faster rate and reached the water surface. The smaller droplets spread at a lower rate but spread to the furthest part. The oil entered the environment in different ways. The oil spread slowly into the marine environment as small droplets and gas bubbles. The oil weathered through evaporation, emulsification, natural dispersion, and chemical dispersion.

According to reports by the analyst, and the investigation team, there were four critical aspects that were to be observed keenly for the success of the drill. The wells pressure was underestimated throughout the operation. The management did not change to the pressure of the well instead they stuck to the kill line pressure to control that of the oil gushing out. Hydrocarbons entered the well unnoticed. The personnel could not dictate the hydrocarbons that had reached that riser due to the fluctuation of pressure. These hydrocarbons were not taken care of, so they ignited the deep water horizon. The team could not control the leakage after the explosion. They were not able to seal the well in the acceptable time (Deepwater horizon accidental investigation team 2010 p.31). This is because of the lack of efficient planning and disaster control measures.

Effects on the environment:

Impact of the spill extended to marine life, and animals in nearby shores. Ten different species of fish were affected by the oil leakage including sea whales, oysters, blue crab, sea turtles, and dolphins. Oil also spread to areas where fish lay their eggs. The fish that are still alive have to shift to the surface to get air. However, the air they breathe is still intoxicated by gases from the crude oil. Tropical birds are also endangered as some lay their eggs at the seashore while others feed on fish of the same (Szado, 2010 4). This affected the local tourism sector, fishing, and food industry.

Effect on the economy:

The spill also had a negative effect on the economy and the people around the Gulf region. The region contributed about a fifth of the total oyster in the nation’s market. The shrimp harvested from the sea produced 75 percent of the markets share. The oil spill led to a significant loss in the tourism sector in this region that in turn affected the economy of the state Florida. The cleaning of the oil leakage is likely to take more time than expected. In addition, the cost for the oil cleaning is extremely high. The cost of putting a permanent cap at the leaking point also cost a lot for the oil company. This amounts to about 75 million dollars. This in turn, affects that whole of America’s economy. This is because the government has to contribute to the cleanup and compensation of the worker and people affected in the explosion.

The economy is also affected as the demand for oil is still on the rise. The loss of the oil in the gulf has led to a shortage in the oil supply. This in turn causes a rise in demand of oil worldwide.  The international price of oil is therefore, likely to rise as the demand for energy increases. This will not only affect those industries, but also affect citizens in the country. To a further extent, the oil spill has rendered some individuals jobless. Many that work in the fishing and tourism sector have lost their jobs (Khan 2010 p.2). The environmental charges to restore the environment to normal will also cost a fortune to the government. When all these are summed up, the pressure falls on the individuals at the grassroots.

Charges of damage due to the oil spill:

Transocean and Halliburton Company had worked on the drill a day before the explosion occurred. As much as it is not yet clear on who is entirely responsible for the damage, BP has been questioned on its commitment towards conservation and safety of the environment. According to reports, BP is accountable for the devastating oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico. This is according to the law oil pollution Act of 1990, and has accepted the charges set on them. They are to take full responsibility and pay the compensation charges.

The state advised the oil company to ensure that they remain practical, efficient, and fair throughout the process (Description claim process 2010 p. 2). The charges that BP had to compensate include removal and clean up. This will include all the oil left on the sea surface, and the shore. Property damage charges included the spoilt machinery at the site. Subsistence losses include the loss the government incurred due to the oil spill. They are also responsible to the natural resource damages. Criminal charges against BP were on the rise as the investigation continued to be carried out. Environmental activists raised more questions as the cases were reviewed.

So far, their charges have risen to 62.9 billion on environmental and ecological destructions alone (Freudenburg and Grambling 2010 p.103). BP will face charges on negligence that have fines that amount to 21 billion dollars. In addition, they will have to contribute 35 percent of the total cost of the cleaning that is 42 billion dollars. The company will also have to compensate families of the people who died in the incident. These personal claims have been many including the eleven people who lost their lives, and seventeen who were injured. The cost is predicted to rise higher (RT 2011 p.4). The U.S government has also set aside charges on BP for the spill at the Gulf. A case against the oil giant last year had the oil company filed for environmental charges. This caused loss of sea animals.

BP was then charged according to the number of barrels that spilled into the gulf. The spill was about 1000 to 4300 barrels per day. Previously they were to be charged on the number of days the leakage happened. This is said to be due to negligence of the BP officials. The charges were 32,500 dollars per day by the clean water act. The fines ranged between 2.8 million to 4.9 million dollars. This still depends on whether the calculations were done according to dates, or per each barrel of oil. If they are calculated according to the number of barrels per day, the fine accumulates to 20 billion dollars. This cost was too high.

BP officials argued that other companies should cost share on this bill. There are companies that also participate in the drilling of oil (Mouawad 2010 p. 5). On the day of explosion, other companies were drilling oil too. These companies include Anadarko Petroleum Corp and MOEX. An oil company in Japan also denied the claims of negligence during the incident. They have escaped the penalties that pertain this case.

Despite the destruction seen after the spill of oil at the wells, it is still hard to prove such cases before a court for charges to be made. One has to show the severity of the damage as evidence. In the past, only the spill in Texas had its charges made, but others have not been proven yet. Prosecutors have to research on the level of damage to the environment so that they can establish their case against BP. The justice has proved few cases, though these have called for the testimonies of defendants to be heard against the accused, oil companies.

The justice department in Mexico has lately created an exceptional panel to re-examine the criminal offences that BP faces.  The formation of this panel would lead to quick evaluation of the situation, and hence give results quickly because the team selected had experience on such cases. So far, there are three aspects that are being investigated. These are based on the following questions. Was research adequately conducted before drilling started? Did the workers close the well in the acceptable time after the first explosion? Was there any documentation of the whole project? It is believed that the answers to these three will lead to a reasonable resolution and fair judgment by the judiciary.

More news has come up that the BP officials could face court charges including the chief executive, Tony Hayward. The death of the eleven workers and injury of seventeen people at the waters was due to their negligence. The accident could not have happened if they had yielded to professional practice. The executive will face the court for charges of manslaughter. The BP supervisory teams have been investigated upon of their code and conduct during the drilling process. Results of the investigations showed that the officials focused more on the project. They ignored safety precautions, and the alarms from the equipment.

They were to consider the security of the workers as they planned on the speed and accomplishment of the project. According to news reports, the equipments, which they used, were not fit for the assignments. The oil erupts out of the ground with a lot of pressure. Therefore, a strong setup was to be there to tap the oil. Nonetheless, they used equipments that could not withstand the pressure. They focused more on cost and expenditure. They maximized on every small opportunity, to make a profit. They had agreed to use the lock down safety device, so that will save on cost, about two million dollars. 

What BP did not do:

BP had to do a research on the area before starting work. They did not submit a comprehensive report to senior personnel. This report was to be given to environmental organizations for recommendation and advice. While the oil company was doing its research on the area for oil, some details were left out. BP did not consider some of the critical issues about the drilling site. They did not include the living things that were present on that site. This report would consider all biological features and animals in the region. BP officials stated that the area had no biological resources. BP did not do analysis of the report they wrote about the area.

They did not consider any suggestions. They were to seek advice from environmental programs before starting the drill. NEPA had foreseen a danger from the experiences of the last explosions in the other wells (Reuter and Contrada 2011 p.2). Organizations such as NEPA and the clean water act. These organizations are responsible for the way the environment is handled. The reports were not given to the environmental organizations. The research documents about the proposal and plans to work were not given to other federal agencies. The public was not alerted about the decision made abouut the site. Therefore, the people doing any business at the same spot would be affected. However, BP neglected their role and by passed them to do their own work without consultation. To add on to this, the MMS regional office knew about this plan but did not do much to change the situation. MMS also did not have experts to carry out their functions well at the site. The leader ship was not strict enough to warn BP of their carelessness. This is one of the greatest contributors to the explosion in the sea. The executives of BP had been occupied with the drilling and forgot about the well-being of their workers. They only focused on the success of the project.

A close look at the communications amongst the officials produced more evidence to their guilt. Bp has paid twenty billion dollars to compensate for the losses and damages. This was to individuals and businesses affected (Rushe 2011 p. 2). Research proved that they had not considered risk management. Risk management would have helped them know of alternatives to handle the leakage. That is, once it happened they would have referred to their research for immediate answers. The spill would not have extended for three months.

Cases that have gone through are those at a lower level. Suspension could be given to companies that are guilty of any accusation. Small companies affiliated to BP are banned from engaging in active business deals for up to a period of three years. Major companies like BP have an upper hand in the judiciary. They can do a lot to stop their name from being black listed. However, blacklisting is effective only for a short while. The company made changes and improvements in its vulnerable infrastructure as suggested, for the restrictions to be lessened (Schwartz 2010 p.8).

Ways of removing the oil spilt in the gulf:

There are several ways that have been used to clean up oil spilt in the sea. These processes will help environmentalist restore the surrounding back to its normal state. The removal of oil will also enhance the survival of the threatened species, both aquatic and wildlife. Most of the processes have a level of improbability. Method like burning and capture has the least uncertainty percentage. Dispersion has been tested by experts together with theoretical considerations. Dispersion has a higher probability of safety and elimination of the oil compared with burning, or capture.

However, the recommendations by environmentalist are the use of methods that environment-friendly methods for efficient cleaning. One of the most efficient methods employed in the past is biodegradation. This is the use of microorganisms to eliminate the oil. Although it takes a longer time, it is the most recommended method. Bio emulsification can also be employed as a way to reduce the oil in the water body. On the other hand, burning and capture are methods that can give immediate results.

Dispersion methods are also used a way of reducing the oil on the surface. Dispersion is mainly by the effect of water turbulence. If the turbulence is high, dispersion is also high. Chemical dispersants enhance dispersion. However, the use of chemicals is known to increase toxicity in the water.

Recommendations:

Several recommendations were put in place after the explosion. These are to ensure that there is no other fatal accident that takes place in the future. The recommendations were set to give guidance to upcoming companies on the safety measures and precaution they are to take for successful operations on the drilling.

  • Current practices should have clear guidelines on the recommended procedures, and protocols.
  • Constant reviews should be done and analyze for successful progress. These updates should be given to the technical team for implementation of any changes, and improvements.
  • Keep constant monitoring of the pressure of the drill and ensure safety on the same. This will include the making of safe cemented section to prevent blowouts.
  • Always make sure that the technical team is making reviews of progress constantly.
  • All facts should be documented and filed for future reference.
  • The oil companies should also take time to train their personnel on new technology and safety measures (Mouawad 2010 p. 12)

Conclusion:

The Mexican gulf oil spill is considered one of the greatest oil spills that have ever happened in history. It is one of the worst disaster ever known. The effects of oil spilt in the environment were extremely destructive.  The spill caused destruction in marine, and wildlife environment. The explosion caused deaths of several people and left many injured. Many people had their land affected. Businesses came to a standstill because of the oil spill. In addition, tourism was critically affected and the economy. The explosion happened mainly out of laxity of personnel, and managers. They could have prevented the disastrous leakage from happening. Bp oil should take full responsibility for the destruction caused. The court should be serious about the matter, and charge the company for every loss incurred (Ott 2011 p. 6). The government should also take note to ensure the individuals and families affected are compensated fully. Bp should change their way of work, and improve on management.

Finally, they should be given the responsibility of cleaning the oil spilt. This is because it is solely their fault. Bp should ensure that they put maximum effort in cleaning the environment of the oil that spilt. This will go a long way in recovering beauty of the environment. A clean environment will ensure that wildlife and sea animal that were affected are safe. Restoration of the surrounding, and survival of animals will go a long way in improving the tourism sector.

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