On April 20, 2010, an explosion tore apart the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which was digging an exploratory well in the Macondo oil and gas prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion killed 11 workers, injured 17 more and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The January report from the president's National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling paints a troubling picture of the missteps, oversights and institutional flaws that led to the disaster--an overarching culture of lax safety measures in the oil and gas industry, and management and regulatory failures that led to cut corners and a lack of vigilance and preparedness.
The April 20 explosion also set off a protracted courtroom fight for the parties involved and a lengthy inquiry into what factors allowed the disaster to happen. On the civil litigation front, more than 300 federal lawsuits have been filed and consolidated into a multidistrict litigation before Judge Carl Barbier in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
There's no question that the defendants in the civil litigation will also face criminal charges in connection to the explosion and spill, says David Uhlmann, director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at University of Michigan Law School.
Although disastrous choices led to the Deepwater Horizon spill, the regulatory context in which those choices were made set the stage for such a disaster. Much of the regulatory blame has been directed at the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling and production. About 60 agency inspectors are responsible for the country's 3,500 offshore rigs.