Thesis: The BP Oil Spill and Its Effects
Offshore drilling involves a mechanical process that is employed in extracting petroleum around the seabed. Oil companies establish drilling rigs in a platform, which create holes in the seabed to extract oil. The platforms are stationed at the shore. In April 2010, an explosion occurred around the Macondo well (MC 252), a BP-owned oil well at the Gulf of Mexico, causing an oil spill in the sea. The oil spill was termed as the worst tragedy that has ever effected on environment in the US. Several investigations were carried out, and concluded that the Deepwater Horizon incident could have been avoided, since it was a series of mistakes that BP failed to put into consideration. The oil spill had an effect on wildlife and their surroundings in more than one way. The effects of explosion and oil spill that occurred at the Deepwater Horizon due to defective well plan will continue to be felt by both human beings and wildlife across America for many years to come.
Factors that led to Explosion
Transocean Ltd owned the Deepwater Horizon, situated at the Gulf Coast, near Louisiana. BP had contracted Transocean to drill oil wells, and just before the explosion, the two companies were preparing to close the wells temporarily, as they waited to engage in commercial production. Another company, Halliburton, was awarded a contract by BP to cement the casings and to work on the rig. Most of the reports that were carried out about the oil spill pointed out BP as solely responsible for the blowout, although BP blamed Transocean and Halliburton (Petroski 300). The principle factors that resulted to explosion include:
1. Faulty cement job: The blowout and oil spill which occurred at the Deepwater Horizon, situated in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, was due to lack of proper well plan, where cement was not applied at the right width to protect the casing (Aeberman). Halliburton, the company that was subcontracted to cement the casings used merely 51 barrels of cement, which was according to the plan of the well. However, this amount was not enough guarantee of a sealing of the well. According to Petroski, even without regard to who was responsible, cementing job was ineffective, and happened to be the foremost factor that led to the disaster (296).
2. Loss of hydrocarbons: A report made by BP indicated that the rig exploded due to the release of hydrocarbons into the air. Transocean crew did not notice the flooding of hydrocarbons filling the well until when the hydrocarbons had risen well in the riser. Transocean Company did not address the issue of high flow of gas in case of emergency. Instead of rerouting hydrocarbons overboard, the gas was passed onto the rig.
3. Faulty pressure test readings: The supervisors from BP and Transocean companies failed to deduce proper results concerning the pressure test inside the Macondo well. BP opted to ignore the tests that indicated unsafe pressure levels, since it was hurrying to conclude on the project. Several safety tests that pointed faults on the project were misinterpreted officials from BP Company.
4. Gas entering the riser. The gas that was coming from the reservoir could have weakened the stickiness of the cement. The internal investigation, carried out by BP, indicated that the methane gas that fleed from the well expanded rapidly, as it climbed up to the riser. The drilling supervisors had recognized the presence of gas in the drilling fluid, as a gas flare could be viewed leaving the diverter line inside the riser (Aeberman). The crew purposely immobilized all the automatic functions that could have given them an indication of the rising gas.
5. Well control response failure. The Macondo well, which was situated about a mile below the sea’s surface, could not block the leakage, thus, allowing millions of gallons of oil to spill into the sea. When the well began to leak, inappropriate immediate response decisions were made. The crew rerouted the mud flow towards the mud-gas separator, instead of directing it overboard.
6. Gas routed to a low pressure system. During the sheen test, the crew redirected the hydrocarbons flow towards a system of low pressure.
7. Fire and gas system failure. Due to rapid flow of gas through the ventilation into the engine room, a condition for explosion was created, causing the fire and gas structure to fail in preventing explosion. The low presence of hydrocarbons in the well created only a small section of the rig to be electrically classified, which could prevent sparking.
8.Faulty blowout preventer (BOP):The blowout preventer (BOP) incorporates the cutoff valves, act as the defense to prevent unintentional releases. BOPs are capable of stopping a capacious pipe with a force of about one million pounds. According to the US Congressional Investigators, the BOP had a hydraulic leak, as well as a faulty battery, thus could not stop the oil spill (Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer). The group also reported that the BOP could not operate effectively, as it had been modified.
The Effects of the Oil Spill
- Facts about the spill
BP lacked the capacity to place adequate controls to ensure that all decisions made concerning the operation were safe according to engineering viewpoint. A report from the presidential commission blamed BP, the company that owned the well, as well as Transocean and Hallliburton, the companies that dealt with sealing of the well. The commission identified the following problems:
- A flawed design, which allowed a thinner block of cement to seal the well at the bottom
- The test of the seal had recognized the problem, but poor judgment allowed the procedure to go on
- Workers did not recognize early warning signs of imminent blowout
- Defective design of the blowout preventer, which was the final line in defense.
On its part, BP claimed that the accident resulted from various causes, which included involvement of multiple companies. Transocean Ltd evaded the blame by claiming that the procedures that were carried out a day before the tragedy were under instructions of BP engineers while the federal regulators had approved the procedures.
A few days after the tragedy, BP received a supply of dispersants called Corexit, a substance that could transform oil into beads that could sink to the bottom of the sea. Critics fouled BP, claiming that mixture of oil and Corexit is even more toxic to marine life than oil or Corexit itself (Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used by BP). Many scientists believe that the mixture of dispersants with oil can create a greater harm than oil alone.
Oil spills created negative impacts along the coastlines, on the surface of the sea, at the bottom of the sea and the surrounding environments. Due to a fragile ecosystem that is found at the Gulf Coast, different types of animals and plants became vulnerable to the oil spill in their natural habitats (Dragovic). Delayed and prolonged reaction to a disaster of such magnitude contributed to rapid spread of toxic substances, thus, interfering with wildlife and grasses. Consequently, many marine animals lost their lives due to exposure to toxics.
- Effects of oil on beaches, marine life, and birds
The long-term effects of oil may not be known, but the breaking of food chain is a tragedy to marine life. Oil is usually lighter than water; hence, it floats and spread over the water surface. Floating oil contaminates living organisms, such as algae and larvae of numerous invertebrates, which are the food for fish (Effects of Oil on Wildlife). When fish feed on these organisms, they ingest toxic substances from oil. Human beings and other large animals also become infected with toxic substances when they eat fish. Birds may lose the capability to fly, or dive for food if they feed over oily waters. Birds can also die if they inhale oil while their eggs are damaged when oiled birds step on them.
Oil can stay in the environment for many years after spilling. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service agency, when oil is spilled on the sandy each, it can sink into the sediments and create a long-term impact on fish and other wildlife species (Effects of Oil on Wildlife). Sea turtles and shellfish could be affected by oil spills, as they depend on sea shores for nesting and survival. The short-term effects of spill included the reduction of fish in the water and loss of grass along the nearby wetlands.
- Effects on costal residents
Oil spills has affected businesses and the overall economy of people living in Southern Alabama. Tourism and food industries along the coastline have severely been affected by the disaster. Dead dolphins have been swept to the beaches along the Gulf Coast, as scientists endeavor to investigate the cause of the death (Mancuso and Fox 3). Lack of breeding grounds for fish and other marine animals will have long-term impacts on the lives of people around the coastal regions. Fishing activities around the Gulf Coast have reduced due to interference of the food web, which consequently led to low fish production. The oil that reached the coastline restricted tourists from visiting the shores. Some oil went as far as the Louisiana marshlands, killing the marsh grass.
Poor decisions made by BP and Transocean companies concerning the oil-rig safety test caused an explosion that resulted in oil spill at the Gulf Coast. The long-term effects spilling 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to 1.4 million gallons of dispersant, is fairly hard to imagine (Mancuso and Fox 2). The oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon was escapable, were it not for the numerous mistakes made by the companies that undertook the operation to establish the rig. Flawed decisions led to a compromise of people’s safety, as well as environmental vulnerability. All blames were pointed to BP, as well as the federal government, for failing to check on safety regulations. The Deepwater Horizon incident offers an effective example of how humans’ behavior can result in disastrous effects on people’s lives, as well as other living organisms.
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