chapter  9
30 Pages

The Presidency and the Executive Branch

ByMATTHEW J. DICKINSON

On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and injuring dozens more. The explosion, caused when methane gas leaking from an underwater well ignited, destroyed the drilling platform and fractured the wellhead pipe located a mile below the water’s surface. The heavily pressurized oil began spewing from the break into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate eventually estimated at some 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.1 In the next days and weeks, as BP engineers tried first to cap and then to contain the spill, the leaking oil formed a surface slick that eventually expanded to cover 2,500 square miles of Gulf water, endangering coastal wetlands, recreation areas, and fisheries. Additional oil plumes of indeterminate size lingered underwater, threatening to wreak further environmental damage. By July, amid uncertain cleanup efforts and with BP engineers still struggling to contain the leak that had already spewed more than three million barrels of oil into the Gulf, the Deepwater spill had developed into perhaps the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history, one whose adverse consequences experts predict may impact the Gulf region for years-if not decades-to come.2