How Many People Died on the Deepwater Horizon?

February 23, 2024

Ten years ago this week, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank off Louisiana’s coast, killing 11 crew members and releasing 134 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. In a place where people work offshore to support their families, this tragedy hit home for many.

The rig, owned by Transocean and leased to BP, was drilling at the Macondo well, located in the deep sea, a permanently dark ocean zone over 5,000 feet beneath the surface that holds most of Earth’s oil reserves. Drilling in this area involves drilling through rock to reach the oil reservoir. On April 20, a sudden increase in pressure from the well caused the rig’s marine riser to fail, and gas blasted out of the drill string into the mud surrounding the well.

This gas accumulated on the rig and ignited, probably by heat or sparks from engine room equipment. The resulting fireball engulfed the rig, which then began to sink, and an explosion followed. The resulting disaster was the largest marine oil spill in history.

In the days and weeks that followed, environmental first responders worked to reduce the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf, spraying dispersants that help microbes break down the oil; setting surface oil on fire to burn it faster; and dispatching underwater chambers to capture leaking crude. But despite the efforts, an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil poured into the water, causing extensive environmental harm to marine wildlife and the Gulf coast.


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