Events and implications of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill

            The BP Deep-water Horizon oil exploded on 20th April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico which is 52 miles southeast of the Louisiana port of Venice. Eleven people working on the rig lost their lives and a lot of marine life was destroyed in the whole event. The ruptured pipeline released large volumes of oil all over the Gulf of Mexico for over 100 days as the British Petroleum substantially could not substantially stop the flow in the next three months.

Efforts including unsuccessful attempts to activate the blowout preventer by using ROVs bore no fruits. Efforts to stop the leak using a cofferdam and junk shot also failed. In July 15 2010 there was a successful containment dome emplaced which was able to successful stop the leakage.  This was one of the largest catastrophic environmental disasters in the world.

            From this event the CEO of BP Tony Hayward lost his job as his actions after the event showed lack of accountability to the company, to his employees, to the government and to the people of the Gulf. The incident was also very costly to the BP Company in terms of reputation, environmental destruction and also financially as they had to compensate the people and businesses that claimed they were impacted by the oil spill where they agreed to pay $7.8 billion. They also paid more than $6 billion in a separate settlement with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (Pezeshki, , Hester, Lin,  & Nyman, 2000)

The 1990 oil pollution act

            The Oil Pollution Act was enacted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. This law was made as guideline on how oils spills were to be managed and controlled. The oil act provides a comprehensive legal frame work on the control and management of oil spills, removal, recovery and clean-up efforts. The law holds the parties responsible for the cost of containment, clean-up and payment of damages that result from the oil spill. It creates a single unified fund called the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to pay clean up and removal cost of up to $1 billion and also creates stronger enforcement authorities, penalties, spill prevention countermeasures and response mechanism. The law requires that the federal government take control to ensure the control, removal and clean up measures are taken in a timely and orderly manner. In the case of the BP oil spill the Coast Guard was expected to take control and designate the party or parties responsible for the oil spill who would be responsible for removal and clean-up costs.

            Coast Guard took responsibility in identifying the party responsible for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In May 2010 the secretaries of the Coast Guard sent a letter to the CEO of BP Tony Hayward informing him that his company as the responsible party was expected to cater for the clean-up of the oil spill and also pay for all economic losses caused by the spill. The BP Company took responsibility of the spill.

            The 1990 Oil Pollution Act does not only make the responsible party take care only of the removal cost, damages and penalties but also expects the party to follow orders from the Coast Guard to take remedial action to contain the spill and conduct removal operations. The Coast Guard also has responsibility of getting machines, equipment and skilled personnel from any sector to help in responding to the oil spill.

At the core of the 1990 Oil Pollution Act approach to oil spill containment and response is the National Contingency Plan (NCP) which establishes an organizational structure with national, regional, states and local components and integrates the responsibilities of sixteen federal agencies, states and local governments.

There is a sequences of events that occur after an oil spill under the National Contingency Plan. The first step is for the party discovering the spill to notify the National Response Center (NRC). The NRC then informs the federal On-Scene Coordinator who investigates the spill and later coordinates and directs containment and removal actions at the scene. In case the federal On-Scene coordinator so elects, a responsible party may be directed to conduct the containment and removal actions.

The 1990 Oil Pollution Act created to create a comprehensive oil spill response and containment network that would help to respond to any type of oil spill quickly and effectively. The first oil spill of national significance after the OPA in 1990 to test the network was The Macondo blowout and the media complained that the government’s response was slow (Griggs, 2011).

Why it took long to stop the spill.

The main reason why it took long to stop the oil spill was the fact that there was no capability to do so even though there were contingency plans set to help in stopping a similar oil spill. The National Contingency Plan required that every offshore oil drilling facility have in place a facility-specific oil spill response plan. The plan is supposed to be the principal tool in dealing with any spill but in the case of BP the plan was completely inadequate.

The department of the Interior regulation requires that any party operating an oilrig seaward of the coastline must file with the Mineral Management service (MMS) for approval a spill response plan demonstrating that the party can respond faster and effectively whenever oil is discharged from their facility. Although the BP had a plan, research shows that the plan did not clearly show what specific technology would be used or available for use to respond to a deep water blowout. They rather emphasized that such a spill was almost impossible to occur and incase it occurred, there would be minimal environmental damage as the well was 48 miles from the shore. The NCP regulation required that the BP should have a plan able to contain the worst spill but the BP failed to meet the requirements of the regulations. The presidential commission that was investigating the case concluded that mistakes by three major companies were responsible for the blowout and the contingency plans of all major oil companies were inadequate. BP, Halliburton and Transocean were the main contributors to the oil spill due to lack of serious preparation, proper planning and good management (Griggs, 2011).

Control that would have been helpful to BP during the spill

In case the company would have developed well designed blowout preventers, this would have helped to stop the oil spill early enough. This could have helped reduce the destruction that was cause by the oil spill. It could have also been very important to offer training to employees on how they are expected to deal with such a calamity and also to use equipment provided for the reduction of such a calamity. The companies and the government claim that they now have better equipment than they did before. Companies in the oil industry claim that the spill is a game changer and they have learnt a lot from it. The companies in the industry also claim to have gained new capabilities they did not have before (Griggs, 2011).


Griggs, J. (2011). BP GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL. Energy Law Journal, 32.1, 57-79

Pezeshki, S. R., Hester, M. W., Lin, Q., & Nyman, J. A. (2000). The effects of oil spill and clean-up on dominant US Gulf coast marsh macrophytes: a review. Environmental pollution, 108(2), 129-139.

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