Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

An Unprecedented Offshore Drilling Catastrophe

On April 20, 2010, disaster struck in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, located on the Macondo Prospect, exploded—killing 11 people and causing the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. Oil gushed for more than 85 days after the initial explosion, with engineers finally capping the well on July 15, 2010. By then, according to the NOAA, roughly 134 million U.S. gallons had spilled.

The Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU). The rig was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries and owned by Transocean; BP chartered it for the Macondo Prospect off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico and was expecting to use it from 2008 to 2013. The offshore rig had only been in service for nine years.

The explosion occurred around 9:45 p.m. CDT with 126 crew members aboard. According to workers who were there, the lights began to flicker, which was followed by strong quaking. The initial explosion on the rig was followed by a fire that lasted for more than a day. On April 22 at approximately 10:20 a.m., the Coast Guard reported the oil rig had sunk.

In the aftermath of the explosion and fire, 115 people were evacuated. Initially, 12 to 15 people were reported missing; however, that number was later reduced to 11. A massive rescue operation was launched by the U.S. Coast Guard that included two cutters, four helicopters, and a rescue plan. Despite these efforts, the 11 missing crew were never found.

Investigation into the Explosion & Fire

Following the tragic accident, the government launched several investigations while private entities made investigations of their own. In one of these, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce stated that BP should have tested the cement. BP released its own findings in September 2010, stating that a pressure test had been incorrectly interpreted by both BP and Transocean, with several warning signs being neglected and ignored by both companies.

In November 2020, the Oil Spill Commission reported its findings. While it stated that BP had not outright violated safety protocols, it noted several decisions that had increased risks. As Co-Chair Billy Reilly said, “There was not a culture of safety on that rig.” One heavily criticized decision was BP’s refusal to add more centralizers, despite recommendations.

In January 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued a 398-page report titled Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, which included the commission's findings and recommendations following the explosion and subsequent spill. According to the report:

"The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry."

Discovery of History’s Largest Accidental Oil Spill

On April 22, two days after the initial explosion, an oil leak was discovered following the emergence of a large oil slick. For the next 87 days, oil continued to flow at an estimated rate of 1,000 to 5,000 barrels per day. Two months after the leak was spotted, oil began to wash up on the shores of the Gulf States, with the oil spreading further and further as time went on. Satellite images have shown that the spill spread to roughly 68,000 square miles.

The effects of the oil spill were enormous. In terms of the environment, animal deaths skyrocketed, including about 61 dolphins and other mammals, 2,000+ birds, and 450+ sea turtles. This led to the threatening of 8 national parks, as well as putting 400 species at risk. In the wake of the oil spill, there was also a disturbing rise in mutated fish.

The health consequences were severe for local residents and workers, including exposure to:

  • Oil fumes
  • Particulate matter
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Heavy metals

This toxic exposure had serious effects, including neurological, eye, and respiratory problems. By June 2010, nearly 150 exposure cases related to the BP oil spill had been reported to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, with the majority involving workers involved in the clean-up efforts. One report noted that there were more than 700 people who had sought medical services with complaints in the Gulf.

Claims Under the BP Compensation Fund

While the environmental and health consequences were severe, there were also long-lasting financial problems for people who worked and lived in the Gulf. This impacted business owners who had to deal with an interruption of their business, as well as those involved in different industries ranging from fishing to manufacturing to tourism. 

BP established a $20 billion trust fund to settle claims related to the incident. This agreement came on June 16, 2010, following a meeting with President Obama. Executives agreed to put $3 billion into the fund during the third quarter of 2010, followed by $2 billion during the fourth quarter, followed by $1.25 billion per quarter until the fund reached the maximum of $20 billion. Until then, BP posted its assets as bond.

”We are taking full responsibility for the spill and we will clean it up and where people can present legitimate claims for damages we will honor them“ 
- BP CEO Tony Hayward

Operations of the BP Compensation Fund

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, managed by attorney Kenneth Feinberg and his firm, began processing claims from the spill in August 2010. By November 2010, $1.7 billion had been paid to about 92,000 claimants. However, the process was marred by issues of slow payments and high numbers of denied claims. Feinberg faced criticism for his handling of the fund and his compensation from BP, raising concerns about transparency and conflict of interest.

In 2012, the fund's operations transitioned to a court-supervised settlement program, covering $9.6 billion of the total $20 billion fund. An independent audit revealed that 7,300 claimants had been wrongly denied or underpaid, leading to an additional $64 million in payouts. By June 2013, the total payments made from the fund amounted to $19.7 billion, with the remainder to be compensated from BP's future profits.

Getting Help from Experienced Oil Spill Lawyers

When oil spills impact workers, communities, and businesses, Arnold & Itkin stands up for their rights and interests. With cases like these, regular people often find themselves facing off against multi-billion-dollar corporations more interested in protecting their profits than helping the people they've harmed. To level the playing field, claimants and workers need a powerful ally. That is where a firm with experience in offshore disasters and oil spills makes all the difference. 

Arnold & Itkin represented nearly a third of the crew members injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Learn about their experience with our firm:

At our law firm, we are proud to have advocated for people facing a variety of problems related to the BP oil spill—regardless of whether they involved maritime, injury, or business law. Having recovered more than $20 billion on behalf of our clients, our past results speak for themselves. No matter what you’re facing, no matter how big your opponent, no matter how complex the situation–we’ll be there to fight for you. No matter what.

Contact us to learn your legal options in a free consultation: (888) 346-5024.

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