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Remember the numbers 200, 16,000, 8,000, and 11? These numbers each represent an outcome of what happened on April 20, 2010 from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off the Gulf of Mexico. Two-hundred million gallons of oil spilled, 16,000 miles is the range the oil spread across the coastline from Florida to Texas, 8,000 animals were killed just 6 months after the incident, and 11 workers were killed due to the explosion. This explosion is still considered the biggest oceanic oil spill, and one that no one predicted or even imagined could possibly happen.

Research shows how emergency preventers failed to deploy which could have helped contain the blowout, but there were several factors that came to surface showing the malfunction of the system and its parts. First off, if you consider the steel pipe that was submerged thousands of feet under sea level, it was only a matter of time before an explosion occurred with only a steel plate to cover the surface. Now, granted, the steel plate was 640,000 tons, but the force that came back up was twice as powerful.

Also, the off shore drilling practices had several weak spots, showing that80% of errors can be likened to human and organizational factors, while 50% of those drive from flaws in the engineering design. Just like any good system, there are weaknesses where your enemies can enter, and there is always room to improve to make those systems great ones.

Aftermath: Timeline of BP oil spill from 2010

  • April 2010 – Explosion occurs and oil rig sinks to the bottom of the Gulf after burning for 36 hours. After a few days, officials stated that 1,000 barrels of oil were leaking per day. By the end of April, the oil leak spread to the Louisiana coastline endangering the wetlands, and President Obama bans oil drilling in new areas of the U.S. until a full investigation is completed.
  • May 2010 – President Obama visits the Gulf of Mexico and announces that BP is responsible for the leak in the rig. BP makes attempts to stop the leak through tactics called the “junk shot” and “top hat” to prevent further spreading. After tactics have failed, researchers discovered that 70,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf per day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 20%, higher than original estimates. A couple more attempts were made, but failed, and researchers discovered that oil could be leaking up the East coast line.
  • June 2010 – President Obama visits Gulf of Mexico for a fourth time and leakage has been tracked for over 40 miles under water, while BP takes a huge hit on their corporation and starts a fund to pay back for the damage lost, which was estimated to about 3 billion dollars.
  • July 2010 – Oil reaches Texas, and has officially affected all five US Gulf Coast states. A fitting cap was placed over the leaking well-head that has stopped the flow of oil for the time being. Vessels remain in the water to clean up on the surface and a plug is to be installed to fix the problem of the leaking rig. BP Chief Executive steps down from his position, and it is announced that the company set aside 32.2 billion dollars to help resolve the problem. Oil begins to disappear from the ocean surface.
  • August 2010 – Three-quarters of the oil spilled has been cleaned up and is considered no longer to be toxic. Total cost to date for the oil spill is 6 billion dollars and new offshore drilling practices are discussed.
  • September 2010 – The blowout preventer is examined from the original explosion, cement is put into the new well, and the problem was solved on September 19, 2010.

During this time, as stated above, over 8,000 animals were reported dead after just six months of the incident occurring, and over 30,000 people came out to help on the Gulf Coast clean up to take care of wildlife and various other duties on shore. Wildlife is still being affected today from the oil spill and mammal deaths are still being calculated. Technology practices were overlooked in the past and limits were pushed when it came to underwater pressure, but now new practices and procedures are put in place by the Government and the oil industries across the world to prevent this problem.

Five years later: We learned, we grew, we built

There is no doubt that technology has improved over the last five-years and especially with the oil drilling industry. Enhanced blow out protectors, built by BP, are in place to prevent these measures from hopefully not happening at this magnitude, and, even Internationally, new technology is being handled remotely to control the oil and gas networks. Also, oil rigs are being secured by energy sectors, but this still doesn’t protect them from cyber-attacks. In fact,32% of attacks on critical national infrastructure were targeted on energy firms in 2014. This is due to hackers being able to get into the system and override it, however with Government involvement and better maintenance practices in place, we should be able to get our waters to a cleaner state and keep it that way for years to come.

What if the BP oil rig had better preventative maintenance protection?

The questions reside: What could we have done better? How could we have prevented this from happening? What if we saw the signs sooner? Answer: the situation may have not happened or with better preventative maintenance it could have been resolved much quicker and less expensively. Those seem to be such logical answers, but not when an oil industry doesn’t think in a million years this could happen to them. BP has admitted that their practices were faulty and maintenance was not properly performed on their rigs causing the leak to happen. Now, they have new plans and practices in place to prevent these measures from getting to the catastrophic state they did before.

Here are the preventative maintenance steps being performed today:

  1. Stress tests performed to assess accuracy and tracking through management documentation
  2. Better documentation of work orders and training crew members on new practices
  3. Blue print creation- Allows users to use existing technology to respond quickly to oil spills and better assess the situation
  4. New equipment that allows rigs to communicate with plans and ships more freely and coordinate response efforts to future spills
  5. Remote operated vehicles- Robots that assist crew members as backup in disaster situation

Maintenance practices are best utilized when put into an effective management system. Listed below are a few items to consider when implementing your strategy:

  1. Develop your maintenance plan and schedule process with accurate tracking
  2. Estimate accurate times for checklist to be completed- save on money
  3. Use a CMMS to help achieve 100 percent completion on maintenance work orders
  4. Record work order history of all assets and practices for future training and accuracy

This catastrophe affected families, our eco-system, our wildlife, and so much more, but with these new plans and practices in place, we can learn from the past and make better decisions in the future.