BP: Public scrutiny and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the oil spill

The biggest oil spill in history flowed for three months causing irreversible damage to the natural ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster caused by an explosion of a British Petroleum oil rig killed eleven platform workers, injured 17 others and caused the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry marking an irreversible and unforgettable time in history.

The remnants of the recent devastating spill are still very much apparent causing extensive damage to wildlife habitats and killing thousands of habituated birds and fish in the area. The spill ruined the natural ecosystem situated in the Mexican gulf and BP has been under extreme scrutiny since the event. The world waits for answers while ongoing recovery efforts from BP are underway.

Background

The British Petroleum drilling unit was called The Deepwater Horizon which is a 9-year-old mobile offshore drilling unit. At the time of the explosion BP was drilling a well at a depth of 1.500 meters in the Macondo Prospect of the Gulf of Mexico, right off the coast of Louisiana, USA.

Many say the unprecedented oil spill that occurred in April could have been prevented. During March and early April before the spill occurred, some workers and supervisors expressed concern over the well control. On April 20 methane gas from the well shot up out of the drill column and reached the platform, then exploded, where the fire engulfed the platform—killing eleven men. After burning for 36 hours the drill unit sank with reports of a five mile long oil slick.

Containment efforts

After the explosion occurred the U.S. coastguard set fire to the leakage to slow the spreading process.  By the end of April the oil had spread to 5000 bpd which is five times larger than the coast guard anticipated. BP tried to repair a hydraulic leak on the blowout preventer valve but proved unsuccessful and a third leak was discovered. Louisiana had to declare a state of emergency due to the threat of the oil spill reaching land. In response, BP started to drill a relief well next to the failed well and 30 extra vessels were sent to the Gulf coast. After months of failed containment efforts BP finally sealed the ruptured well in September, five months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Criticism

There has been insurmountable worldwide criticism in the media as well as politically, blaming BP for the horrendous spill, and attacking them as being irresponsible and careless when it came to safety. U.S. President Barack Obama ordered an inquiry panel to investigate and challenge BP sacrificing safety to save money leading to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The panel’s preliminary report in November showed that BP’s actions had led to unnecessary risks. However the panel’s chief investigator, Fred Bartlit, said he agreed with 90 per cent of BP’s conclusions during a presentation to the oil spill commission.

Bartlit said to press, “We see no instance where a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs, and opted to give up safety for costs.”

However, many political officials sent letters to the BP chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward, saying that the company made multiple decisions that increased risks because of monetary reasons.

Bartlit who mostly agrees with BP’s findings said to press “We do not say everything done was perfectly safe. We’re saying that people have said people traded safety for dollars. We studied the hell out of this. We welcome anybody who gives us something we missed.”

These findings will start a two-day hearing that includes BP, Haliburton (the contractor who did the cement job) and Transocean.

Haliburton is under intense scrutiny due to multiple investigations on a faulty cement job which could have been a major cause of the spillage discovered in BP’s internal investigation.

“Bartlit said to press, “We have known for some time that the cement used to secure the pro-duction casing and isolate the hydrocarbon zone at the bottom of the Macondo well must have failed in some way”.

BP’S recent efforts

The oil giant has recently announced a return to profit after massive losses from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. The cost of the spill is currently up to $39.9 billion which includes a $20 billion compensation payment for the U.S. government. Bob Dudley who led the clean-up, replaced Tony Hayward who was increasingly criticized for his leadership and efforts during the oil spill.

BP is now refocusing on making safety its first priority. The company has provided $10 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under its Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) which studies potential health issues that the public could face due to the Gulf oil spill.

The company announced in September that it has plans of creating a new safety division that will oversee the company’s worldwide operations.  They will also re-structure the business from one segment into three—development, production and exploration. Dudley said on BP’s website, “These are the first and most urgent steps in a programme I am putting in place to rebuild trust in BP. The changes are in areas where I believe we most clearly need to act, with safety and risk management our most urgent priority.”

The oil company has also recruited a number of teams to help clear up the shoreline affected by the mammoth oil spill, called Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Teams (SCATS). These teams patrol the coast on a daily basis searching for traces of oil, which a task force is sent out to clear.

SCATS have been organised across four states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

As well as the clean-up of oil, BP has committed to addressing wildlife impacts. In doing so they have contracted with the Tri-State Bird and Rescue organization. The organization helps to recover affected wildlife that were harmed in the spill. The company has also committed with $500 million to do research over a ten year period known as the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) which will study the effects of the oil spill into the ecosystem and help to develop better oil detection capabilities. Wildlife rehabilitation is also the key element to the company’s clean-up efforts with caring for injured animals and returning them to their natural habitats being the company’s goal.

It was not just the natural ecosystem that was affected by the spill, but the livelihood of local business was also gravely affected because of the disaster. BP is trying to take action in helping the gulf area recover from an economic stand point. It has invested in the regions’ business recovery programs and says it is committed to addressing claims from businesses and individuals who have suffered losses.

Though there is still much recovery effort that needs to be done in the aftermath of the mammoth spill, BP has an action plan that will hopefully help to rectify some of the damage that has been done to the ecosystem and the people that live there. With such immense and tragic losses, BP has a lot of work to do if it wants to restore its reputation and the destruction that has caused an insurmountable amount of harm. With strong clean-up efforts and recent profits after months of loss, these could be signs of a brighter future for BP and the affected gulf, but only time will tell.

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