BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events


The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig ablaze. Oil spill picture. Image: U.S. Coast Guard.

BREAKING (11/15/2012): BP Will Pay Biggest Criminal Fine in US History For Gulf Oil Spill

BREAKING (7/15/2010): Flow of Oil Halted for First Time Since April

BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

It's been a strange month in the world of energy. On the heels of the West Virgina Massey coal mine tragedy followed and an oil spill caused by a coal-carrying ship near Australia, disaster struck again on the eve of Earth Day when a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Below is a timeline of what has happened so far. We'll also be updating this space as news develops. Tuesday, April 20 News broke that an explosion occurred at 11 p.m. EST on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, 52 miles southeast of the Louisiana port of Venice. According to the Coast Guard, 11 to 15 crew members were reported missing, of the total 126 workers aboard the rig at the time of the blast. The rig was drilling, but not in production.

Read more: BIG Oil Rig Explosion Off Louisiana Coast, 11 to 15 People Missing, Infernal Blaze

Wednesday, April 22 Helicopters and ships resumed the search for 11 missing workers. The oil rig is still burning, leaving a huge plume of smoke that is more than 30 miles long. Later that day, the fire was extinguished, after which the oil rig sank. The LA Times reports that this could "could shape up to be one of the worst U.S. offshore oil accidents in a generation." NASA images of the oil spill show aerial photos of the pluming, boiling black smoke. Environmental damage is believed to be minimal, due to the fact that Deepwater Horizon is an exploration rig, as opposed to a production rig.

Read more: 30+ Miles of Smoke: Satellite Photos Show Smoke Plume From Burning Oil Rig (Update: It Sank)


Oil spill picture. Image: NASA

Monday, April 26 Search-and-rescue operations have been suspended with 11 people still missing, while underwater robots have discovered at least two leaks that are dumping an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil per day in the sea. Officials warn it could take "months" to stop the what is technically a "leak," as opposed to a "spill." Weather keeps oil from moving to coast, but shrimpers and oyster farmers begin to fear for the season's catches, as Bluefin tuna spawning season in the area also encroaches.

Read more: Oil Leaks Caused by Sunk Exploration Rig Could Take Months to Stop, Even With Robots
Wednesday, April 28 Stopping the leak is so technically challenging that experts realize it could take months. U.S. Coast Guard was to suggests best possible solution is to set the oil slick on fire. Later, they do so, releasing a huge plume into the sky.

Read more: Burn It?! Coast Guard Now Considering Setting Oil Slick on Fire. What Are the Pros & Cons?
Thursday, April 29 It is discovered that the leak is not spewing the equivalent of 1,000 barrels of oil per day, but rather 5,000. By end of day, the oil slick has reached the Mississippi Delta.

Friday, April 30 The Times-Picayune reports that "The state departments of Health and Hospitals and Environmental Quality said the strong odor blanketing much of coastal Louisiana and the metro New Orleans area is 'possibly' the result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico." Meanwhile, Obama puts a halt on any new offshore drilling (See Obama Bans New Offshore Drilling Until Investigation on Gulf Spill Complete) and an oil-industry luncheon awarding "offshore drilling safety" is postpones. BP was reported to be a finalist.

On Friday we also compiled videos about the BP oil spill and we looked at how the oil could be cleaned up.

Read more: The 'Katrina of Smell' is Attacking News Orleans Thanks to BP Oil Spill
Saturday, May 1st SkyTruth, a small non-profit, analyzed radar and satellite imagery and estimated that the oil was leaking much faster than the original official estimates. The initial figure was 1,000 barrels/day, which they successfully challenged with a new estimate of 5,000 barrels/day. But even that proved too optimistic, and on Saturday they revised their estimate to 25,000 barrels/day!

Also on Saturday, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that "maybe" the oil rig explosion was an act of eco-terrorism. Nevermind facts, why blame the people responsible when you can make up stories that allow you to blame people you don't like?


Oil spill picture. Photo: NOAA

Monday, May 3rd BP is trying to install a shutoff valve on one of the three underwater leaks, but this is a complicated operation that might not succeed. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the oil slick appears to be drifting toward the Alabama and Florida coasts, including the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana's southern tip.

Pablo looks at why the oil wasn't set on fire (this was mentioned last week by the Coast Guard): "Burning such large quantities of oil would be a dirty proposition, blackening skies and severely impacting air quality in the Southern US, but wouldn't it be better than letting it coat hundreds of miles of beaches, endangered seabirds, oyster beds, and protective barrier wetlands?" Read on for the answer.

More craziness by Rush Limbaugh: He claimed that cleanup isn't necessary, that "the ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there," and that the oil is "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." We debunk this claim here.

We also look at the impact of the oil spill on the critically endangered bluefin tuna population that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico.


Oil spill picture. Image: Unified command releases new overflight map updated 5 p.m. May 3, 2010. CC.

Tuesday, May 4th Is the BP oil spill really that big of a deal? That's the question that we try to answer here; while it isn't the biggest spill ever, there's too many people who try to minimize it, mostly politicians who would like offshore drilling to keep going without any changes.

Jon Stewart does a segment about the spill.

It turns out that this catastrophe could have been prevented for very little money, but BP wasn't interested in these precautions.

Wednesday, May 5th BP says that it succeeded in plugging one of the three leaks, but we're not out of the woods yet. Tomorrow, if all goes well, they're going to lower a 100-ton metal containment dome on one of the other leaks to siphon the oil.

Tom Zeller Jr. and John Broder wrote a piece of news analysis that ran on the front page of the New York Times, suggesting that many of the fears surrounding the gulf oil crisis were overblown. The article aggravated many in the conservation community, because it was hung up on questions of just how big of deal this would turn out to be in the history books, instead of analyzing actual damage that was being done. They spoke to a number of experts who were oddly optimistic in their outlook -- and now, it turns out that there's a reason that at least one of them was so sunny: his conservation group has strong ties to the oil industry.


And yet more about BP's cost-cutting measures that might have made this oil spill more likely.


Saturday, May 8 The plan to stop one of the oil leaks with a containment dome was a failure. The dome was removed and now BP has to figure out what to do.


Oil spill pictures. Photo: NASA, public domain.

Monday, May 10 NASA published photos of the oil taken from the International Space Station by an astronaut. They show the vast scale of the disaster.


Brian Merchant, who writes for TreeHugger and Planet Green, is in Louisiana covering the spill. He has photos of oil hitting the shore and of oil barriers that failed and ended up on the beach. He also reports about some of the health risks that fishermen working to contain the oil face.


If you are curious to know what BP's options are to stop the leaks now, check out this post: What are BP's Options to Stop the Oil Leaks? What are the Chances of Success?.


In the future, space-tech Aerogel could be used to sponge-up oil spills.


Matt writes about one of the rare positive things about this oil spill: The warm weather in the Gulf of Mexico should help the oil degrade faster than spills taking place in cold weather (like the Exxon Valdez spill).



Picture of the oil gushing from the riser pipe on the sea floor, almost 5,000 feet down below the Gulf of Mexico. Image: BP
Wednesday, May 12th BP finally decided to release pictures of the underwater oil leak, allowing independent scientists and engineers to have a look.

Executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton appear at congressional hearings and blame each other for the fiasco.


Image: Screen grab from BP video showing underwater robot working on pipe.
Friday, May 14th BP tries to intubate one of the oil leaks with a smaller pipe to siphon off the oil. Meanwhile, many people are starting to wonder if the official estimate of 5,000 barrels/day is accurate, and if BP isn't hiding that much more oil is leaking in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, May 16th BP succeeds in inserting a tube into the leaking riser pile of the well and capturing some oil and gas, but not that much compared to what is still leaking out.


Photo: NASA, public domain.
Tuesday, May 18th Actor Kevin Costner shows a machine that he claims can separate 97% of the oil from water. He personally invested money into its development and his brother, a scientist, is in charge of that project.

NASA shows images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, revealing for the first time a massive "arm" hundreds of miles long.

Monday, May 24th BP keeps delaying a "top kill" operation that could potentially plug the oil well and stop the flow of oil.

Some start to wonder what a rough hurricane season could mean to the oil clean up operations.


BP's robots are inspecting the well-head to see if the top kill succeeded. Image: BP
Thursday, May 27th The "top kill" is finally attempted, and at first it looked like it was working (a U.S. Coast Guard admiral said as much). But after a few days of efforts, the "top kill" is abandoned. BP will have to try something else...

Meanwhile, more people are making ironic BP T-Shirt and some of the oil cleanup workers are getting sick.

Tuesday, June 1st Contradicting the findings of many scientists, BP denies the existence of underwater oil plumes. Scientists claim they have found more than one oil plume, one of them "22 miles long, six miles wide and more than a thousand feet deep".

BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was quoted saying: ""I'd Like My Life Back". Poor him!

Wednesday, June 2nd Some experts say that under a worst case scenario, the oil leak could last until Christmas. Things would have to go really wrong for that to happen, but so far, not much has gone right.

Sarah Palin used Twitter to defend her "drill, baby, drill" rallying cry, implying that environmentalists are to blame for the BP oil spill.

All of this is making the BP stock plunge on the stock markets.

BP is apparently trying to ban workers from sharing photos of animals killed by the oil, and according to polls, 1/5 of Americans still view BP favorably.

See also: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: The What, When and Where ...and How You Can Help

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Tags: Oil Spill