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What Happened Leading up to the Explosion?

Columbia Space Shuttle Insignia

“Complex systems almost always fail in complex ways.”

Columbia Accident Investigation Board

It is a complex, even dazzling, enterprise. The remarkable advances that have propelled the move to deepwater drilling merit comparison with exploring outer space. The Commission is respectful and admiring of the industry’s technological capability.
-National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Report to the President1National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. (2011, January). Deep water: The Gulf oil disaster and the future of offshore drilling, Report to the President. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-OILCOMMISSION/pdf/GPO-OILCOMMISSION.pdf

Deepwater Horizon was in its final stages of completion for the initial exploratory well under the direction of BP when the incident took place. Numerous studies and reports after the incident summarize the events leading up to the deadly explosion. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board reported:

On the day of the April 20 tragedy, no effective safeguards were in place to eliminate or minimize the consequences of a process safety incident. The safeguards (or barriers) intended to prevent such a disaster were not properly constructed, tested, or maintained, or they had been removed. The management systems intended to ensure the required functionality, availability, and reliability of these safety critical barriers were inadequate. Ultimately, the barriers meant to prevent, mitigate, or control a blowout failed on the day of the accident.2U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Background

BP acquired the lease for the Macondo well in March 2008 and began drilling in October 2009 after the offshore regulator approved BP’s exploration plan and issued BP a permit to drill. On April 20, 2010, the drilling activities were completed after several productive oil and gas zones had been discovered at Macondo, and the crew was performing a series of steps to temporarily abandon the well. Abandonment activities would essentially plug the well so that the rig could move on to a new drilling site and a production installation could return to the Macondo site at a later date to extract the hydrocarbons.3U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Image Credits: NASA

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