Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Timeline, 2010 : by Dana J. Quigley

The following timeline includes the major developments related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The circumstances surrounding the spill, the amount of oil spilled, and the attendant environmental damage are also given.

Tuesday, April 20 : Located about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast, British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes around 11 p.m. EST. As many as 15 crew members are reported missing; 98 workers escape without serious injury.

Thursday, April 22 : The search continues for 11 confirmed missing workers. Deepwater Horizon continues to burn. A 30-mile-long plume of smoke emanates from the rig. Effects of the explosion may have been worse if the rig had been in production rather than in exploration mode. The rig later sinks into the ocean.

Sunday, April 25 : The Coast Guard allows the use of remote underwater robots to activate a blowout preventer to stop the leak.

Monday, April 26:  Rescue efforts for missing crew members are suspended. Underwater robots discover two leaks that are dumping about 1,000 barrels of oil per day into the ocean. Speculation about the environmental, financial, and personal impact of the oil spill (or more accurately described, oil leak) raises wide concern.

Wednesday, April 28 : Experts are stumped about how to stop the leaks and effectively clean up the oil already in the ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard suggests a solution to set the oil slick on fire; a contained area is set on fire later in the day. Experts revised their leak rates from 1,000 barrels of oil per day to 5,000. It is confirmed that the oil slick has reached the Mississippi Delta.

Thursday, April 29 : President Obama pledges all available resources to contain the spill. He also says that BP will be held responsible for the cleanup.

Friday, April 30 : The Obama administration states that it will not authorize any new offshore drilling until the cause of the rig explosion is fully understood and measures to prevent another such disaster are put in place.

BP CEO Tony Hayward says that BP takes full responsibility for the spill and will pay for the cleanup and all legitimate claims.

Saturday, May 1 : The leak rate is revised further to 25,000 barrels per day from the previous estimate of 5,000.

Sunday, May 2 : President Obama visits the Gulf Coast to see the results of the cleanup. BP begins to dig a relief well alongside the failed well, but the project will take several weeks—perhaps months—to complete. A 10-day ban on fishing in affected areas is put into place.

Monday, May 3 : The oil slick appears to be drifting toward the Alabama and Florida coasts. BP tries to stop one of the leaks by installing a shutoff valve.

Tuesday, May 4 : News reports reveal that BP had a handful of options to prevent the disaster but did not implement all of them. Aside from a $500,000 acoustic cut-off switch, a deep-water valve could have been placed under the sea floor as another measure to seal any potential leaks. The relaxing of U.S. regulation in recent years allowed BP save money by not employing such preventative measures.

Wednesday, May 5 : BP succeeds in plugging one of three leaks in the oil line. It plans to lower a 100-ton containment dome over one of the remaining leaks to siphon the oil. Though the leak is plugged, it fails to affect the amount of oil spilling out.

Friday, May 7 : The containment dome fails. Later, it is speculated that BP may have been able to seal the leak rather than trying to siphon the oil from the leak into a nearby tank. The dome failed due to frozen materials clogging the device. The Fishing ban is extended and expanded.

Sunday, May 9 : BP reveals a "junk shot" plan that includes plugging the leak by pumping golf balls and shredded tires into the oil well.

Tuesday, May 11—Wednesday, May 12 : Executives from BP, Transocean, which owns the oil rig, and Halliburton, the company contracted to cement to well, appear at congressional hearings in Washington. Each executive blames the other companies for the disaster and concedes that many errors led to the explosion.

Friday, May 14 : BP attempts to intubate the bigger of the two oil leaks with a smaller pipe to siphon the oil. President Obama lambasts the involved companies for trying to dodge blame for the disaster.

Sunday, May 16 : The intubation of the leak succeeds, but it fails to capture a significant amount of oil.

Tuesday, May 18 : The no-fishing zone is extended to 19% of waters in the Gulf of Louisiana.

Monday, May 24 : BP further delays a method to clog the well and thus prevent further leaks. The method is called "top kill."

Wednesday, May 26 : "Top kill" is attempted and seems to succeed—a mixture of cement and mud is pumped into the leak 5,000 feet below the surface in order to clog the well.

Friday, May 28 : President Obama returns to the Louisiana Gulf for his second visit. Tony Hayward says that the disaster has cost BP $930 million.

Saturday, May 29 : 40 days into the spill, the "top kill" method is abandoned because the mixture cannot overpower the pressure of the oil spilling from the leak.

Tuesday, June 1 : Outrage ensues when Tony Hayward says, "I'd like my life back." BP shares plunge about 17%, losing $23 billion in market value; BP stock lost about $67 billion over the six weeks since the explosion. The U.S. Justice Department launches a criminal investigation into the initial explosion and the ensuing spill. Fishing restrictions increase to 37% of federal waters in the Gulf.

Thursday, June 3 : Technicians cut a riser pipe nearly one-mile under the surface and plan to then dome the leak and siphon the oil to a tank on the surface. As a result, the rate of flow increased by 20% beause the oil has less distance to travel to leak.

Friday, June 4 : President Obama cancels his trip to Australia, Indonesia, and Guam to make his third trip to the Gulf Coast. He voices his outrage at BP for spending millions of dollars on television advertisements.

Saturday, June 12 : President Obama speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron about BP oil spill. The U.S. Coast Guard orders BP engineers to increase the rate of containment of the spewing oil; the consequences for failing to do so are not outlined, however.

Sunday, June 13 : BP officials state that the containment cap captured 15,000 barrels of oil on the previous day, bringing the total number of barrels captured by the device to 119,000.

Monday, June 14 : President Obama visits the Gulf for the fourth time in eight weeks. Congress and the Obama administration demand that BP halt paying dividends to its shareholders in order to ensure that the company will have money to pay for damages. BP says it will be able to siphon 40,000 to 53,000 barrels a day by the end of June.

Tuesday, June 15 : Oil executives are summoned to Congress to testify about the safety of offshore drilling and share their response plans for another such disaster. Leak estimates are increased to 60,000 barrels per day; this means 2.5 million barrels a day are spilling into the Gulf. At this rate, the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill is reproduced every four days. That night, President Obama delivers a speech about the oil spill from the Oval Office. The speech, his first from the Oval Office, is watched by 32 million viewers.

Wednesday, June 16 : President Obama meets with top executives and lawyers of BP at the White House. He later announces that BP agreed to create a $20 billion fund to pay claims and damages. The fund will be run by Kenneth R. Feinberg, who oversaw the compensation for victims of Sept. 11.

Thursday, June 17 : Tony Hayward testifies before Congress. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that containment devices should be able to capture 53,000 barrels per day by the end of June. In the future, the collection of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels a day may take place with the successful implementation of a new, multi-hose well cap. BP recovers 25,290 barrels of oil, the most it has recovered in a single day. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizes to BP for being forced by the Obama administration to create a $20 billion fund, calling it a "shakedown." Under pressure, he later apologizes for his apology.

Friday, June 18 : Tony Hayward steps away from BP's response efforts and passes the responsibilities to Robert Dudley, the managing director of BP. Hayward still remains the CEO of BP. The Center for Biological Diversity files a lawsuit against BP, seeking monetary penalties for the disaster under the Clean Water Act. The Center calculates that BP's liability will be around $19 billion, assuming the spill continues into August.

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