Looking Back on the BP Oil Spill: How It All Started

What we knew and when we knew it.

By Laura RiceApril 20, 2015 8:42 am|

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Two days later, it crashed into the ocean. By mid-May, an underwater camera showed the broken pipe constantly gushing black liquid into the Gulf of Mexico.

As the oil spread, so did the panic. Crews tried several different methods to  keep it from spreading across the Gulf and into sensitive ecosystems. Engineers tried everything from a containment dome to a “top kill” – sealing the pipe with cement. Nothing worked.

The oil flowed for 87 days. Finally, on July 15, 2010, the oil stopped flowing. But damage reports were already coming in with the tides.

In the weeks, months and years since the oil stopped spilling, The Justice Department sued BP and several other companies involved in the spill. The company eventually was required to set up a $20 billion fund to make amends.

Study after study has been launched – many from Texas – to determine the environmental and business effects of the largest marine oil spill in history. Laura Huffman is the Texas Director of The Nature Conservancy. She says the Gulf affects Americans more than we may realize.

“It supports one of the largest recreation and tourism industries to the tune of $20 billion a year and about 600,000 jobs,” Huffman says. “The Gulf produces about a third of the seafood Americans eat – including 60 percent of our oysters. It’s also the primary source of energy independence in the United States.”

The Nature Conservancy just completed a report looking at how fines and fees from the spill have been spent to address damage.

“The good news is the early returns are showing that the money is going to projects that really do represent solid restoration – in particular here in Texas,” Huffman says.

As to the effects on Gulf industry, after six months of frozen leases the government began granting permits again in 2011.

Charlie Williams is with the Center for Offshore Safety. He says the industry has tried to lower the risk of another spill.

“They wrote a new standard on blowout preventers, they did some new work and some revised work on well integrity – which is about how wells are cemented – which was another concern,” Williams says.

Laura Huffman says she believes while the Gulf isn’t as healthy now as it was before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – she does believe efforts have helped.

“The oysters beds, shoreline protection; investing in those kinds of projects, which we have done, will help the Gulf of Mexico be resilient if there’s another oil spill.”