Transocean’s semi-submersible drilling vessel Deepwater Horizon was finishing work on a wellbore that had found oil 18,000 feet beneath the seafloor, in mile-deep water fifty miles off the Louisiana coast. Supervisors in the control cabin overlooking the drilling operations area were directing routine procedures to cement, plug and seal the borehole, replace heavy drilling fluids with seawater and extract the drill stem and bit through the riser (outer containment pipe) that connected the vessel to the blowout preventer (BOP) on the seafloor.
Suddenly, a thump and hiss were followed by a towering eruption of seawater, drilling mud, cement, oil and natural gas. The BOP and backup systems had failed to work as designed, to control the massive amounts of unexpectedly high-pressure gas that were roaring up 23,000 feet of wellbore and riser.
Gas enveloped the area and ignited, engulfing the Horizon in a 500-foot high inferno that instantly killed eleven workers. Surviving crewmen abandoned ship in covered lifeboats or jumped 80 feet to the water.
The supply boat Tidewater Damon Bankston rushed to the scene and helped crewmen get their burned and injured colleagues aboard. Shore-based Coast Guard helicopters tore through the night sky to brave the flames and take critically injured men to hospitals.
Thirty-six hours later, the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank, buckling the 21-inch diameter riser and breaking it off at the rig deck. Three leaks began spewing some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil per day into the ocean. As the oil gathered on the surface and drifted toward shore, it threatened a major ecological disaster for estuaries, marine life and all who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Thankfully, after getting rough for a couple days, the seas calmed. Industry, Coast Guard, NOAA and Minerals Management Service (MMS) crews and volunteer from Louisiana to Alaska had some time to recalculate the spill’s trajectory, deploy oil skimmer boats and miles of containment booms, and burn some of the oil off the sea surface. They lowered ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to cap the end of the riser and spray chemicals that break down and disperse the oil.
Be the first to read Paul Driessen's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.