11 Years After Deepwater Horizon, Safety Efforts Continue

On 20 April 2010, a kick and blowout in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a series of explosions that killed 11 people and started an environmental disaster. Now, 11 years later, government and industry continue the drive to improve safety.

Flying Crane and Oil Rig
A crane takes flight in Mobile, Alabama. On the horizon is one of many oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: Michael Watkins/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

On 20 April 2010, a kick and blowout in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a series of explosions that killed 11 people and started an environmental disaster. Now, 11 years later, government and industry continue the drive to improve safety.

The disaster at Macondo Prospect resulted in the largest environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico; the US government estimates that 4.9 million bbl of oil spilled into the Gulf. Investigations after the disaster led to several safety initiatives from the industry and the identification of areas of improvement by government.

Deepwater Horizon Reunion

US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland called the anniversary of the Macondo disaster “a time to remember the 11 men who lost their lives; honor those who worked to contain the spill; recognize the devastating impact the incident had on Gulf Coast communities, local economies, and wildlife; and recommit ourselves to strengthening safety and environmental protections for offshore energy operations.”

To commemorate the date, the BBC has gathered some of those who were closest to the epicenter—those who worked on the rig or who worked so hard to staunch the flood of oil and clean up the disaster afterward—for an online program. The program includes

  • Mark Mazzella, a well-control expert with BP at the time
  • Thad Allen, the US Coast Guard admiral who was in charge of the federal response
  • P.J. Hahn, former director of coastal zone management for Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
  • Keith Jones, whose son Gordon worked on the Deepwater Horizon and was killed in the accident
  • Bob Kaluza, one of two BP supervisors on the rig that night and author of the book “Deepwater Deception: The Truth About the Tragic Blowout and Perversion of American Justice”

Listen to the program here.

Continuing Efforts in the Gulf

Now, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) wants greater attention paid to the pipelines that web the Gulf floor. It recently released a report that asks the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to boost its efforts “to further develop, finalize, and implement updated pipeline regulations to address long-standing limitations regarding its ability to ensure active pipeline integrity and address safety and environmental risks associated with pipeline decommissioning.”

The GAO report primarily addresses decommissioned pipelines, specifically those decommissioned in place. The report claims that BSEE and its predecessors have agreed to let more than 97% of the pipelines decommissioned since the 1960s in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 18,000 miles of pipe, be decommissioned in place. In-situ pipeline decommissioning was envisioned as an alternative to removal to be used if certain criteria were met. The report claims that the high percentage of in-situ decommissioning reveals that this practice has become the default method, despite BSEE not having any process for ensuring that operators have met decommissioning standards. The report says BSEE does not observe pipeline decommissioning activities or inspect pipelines after their decommissioning nor does it monitor the condition or location of in-situ decommissioned pipelines.

“Without taking actions to develop, finalize, and implement updated pipeline regulations,” the report says, “BSEE will continue to be limited in its ability to ensure that its pipeline decommissioning process addresses environmental and safety risks.”

The GAO report claims that BSEE’s efforts to monitor active pipelines in the Gulf are lacking, as well, relying on surface observations and pressure gauges to ensure integrity. The report claims that BSEE “does not generally conduct or require any subsea inspections of active pipelines.” The methods that BSEE uses, the report says, “are not always reliable for detecting ruptures.”

The US Department of the Interior has agreed with the GAO report’s recommendation that BSEE update its pipeline regulations. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, while noting the advancements that the US government has made in making sure that Gulf operations remain safe, added, “but we also know there is more work to be done.”

“As we continue to diversify our energy portfolio to combat climate change, Interior must lead in the development of workplace safety and environmental protection strategies,” she said. “The lives and livelihoods of Gulf Coast workers and communities, the health of our marine wildlife and coastal habitats, and the future of our ocean and waters depend on our action.”

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