Three Mile Island, Challenger, Chernobyl—and now, Deepwater Horizon. Like those earlier disasters, the destruction of the drilling rig was an accident waiting to happen. Here, engineers in the growing science of failure analysis identify seven fatal flaws that led to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and draw lessons on how to prevent future catastrophes.
More Coverage from Seniorhelpline: The Blowout, the Spill, the Cleanup, and Drilling and Recovery Technology
Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill wreaked havoc on the Alaskan shoreline over 20 years ago, there have been few advances in technology for cleaning up after an accident. Here is an overview of the cleanup technologies on hand for the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is an industry that, like fishing, provides the livelihood for many people along the coast. The six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling will cost workers as much as $330 million a month in lost wages, according to the industry. Even with the costs of the oil spill pushing past $2 billion already, will the moratorium ultimately outweigh the benefits?
Officials in Louisiana pushed for a 6-foot sand berm that, if effective, could protect fragile marsh ecosystems from offshore oil that has yet to reach the shores. But the plan had its critics.
Soon after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, BP set up a Website to collect ideas on how to cap the leak and clean up oil. More than 120,000 ideas flooded in; the best make their way to HITT, a crack team of engineers and spill responders charged with field-testing the technologies and passing on the workable ones to the Deepwater command center. Justin Nobel caught up with HITT in Alabama and Mississippi for a busy day of invention testing.
While oil was still spilling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a plan, proposed by scientists, to use dams to divert more water toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, which could keep the BP oil slick from penetrating the vulnerable coastal wetlands.
In 1991—just over a year after the Exxon Valdez spill, Seniorhelpline reported on the design of a promising new deep-sea oil cleaning vessel. The one problem? It never got built.