ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Oil Spill Disaster

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico exposes the risks of ignoring safety regulations in offshore oil drilling.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion aboard the Deep water Horizon rig – leased by the oil giant British Petroleum (BP) – on 20 April has turned out to be the biggest ever of its kind. Contrary to the initial oil flow estimates by BP of 1,000 barrels per day, the United States Geological Survey has placed this between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day, with a total of 17-30 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico so far. With more than a month gone by since the explosion, and limited progress in containing the oil flow, the incident has sparked off critical questions relating to the environmental effects, technological failures, regulatory lapses relating todeep sea rigging.

As investigations into the incident have now made clear, this environmental catastrophe has been the result of BP’s blatant disregard for safety laws and offshore drilling procedures. First, a few hours prior to the rig explosion, BP decided to replace heavy drilling fluid in the well with lighter seawater, apparently driven by cost-cutting considerations. While the company was aware that this was a riskier option of sealing the well, it has described it as the “best economical case”. Second, BP did not conduct a special quality test known as cement bond logs, to ensure that the cement used in sealing the well was of standard quality. Third, the blowout preventer, meant to cut off the flow of oil from a well in case of a burst of pressure could not be activated following the explosion. The faulty device obscured the real situation by showing inaccurate pressure readings, eventually triggering off the oil spill.

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