Located about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded around 11 p.m. EST. on Tuesday, April 20. At first, 15 crew members are reported missing; 98 workers escape without serious injury.
Two days later the search continued for 11 confirmed missing workers. Deepwater Horizon continues to burn. A 30-mile-long plume of smoke emanates from the rig. The rig later sinks into the ocean. On 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 raises wide concern about the health of all fisheries.
Eight days later, 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 reaches the Mississippi Delta.
On 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. The next day, the leak rate is revised further to 25,000 barrels per day from the previous estimate of 5,000.
On 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.
The next day, BP succeeded 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. Two days afterward 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.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 11 & 12,2010, 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.
On 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.
On June 16, President Obama met 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.
Finally, on Thursday, July 15 for the first time in 87 days, oil stops leaking from the well. Engineers continue to conduct tests to ascertain if the cap will succeed in permanently stopping the oil flow.