Timeline of the BP Oil Spill

Some environmentalist groups are calling the BP oil spill of 2010 the worst ecological disaster in US history. Due to the extent of damage being done and the multiple attempts to correct the problem, it may be difficult at times to keep track of the event’s progress. To clarify the issue, we have assembled a timeline detailing the major events of this story:

  • April 20, 2010: An explosion occurs upon the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig licensed to BP. The explosion is believed to have been caused by a methane gas bubble that unexpectedly rose up the well. 11 people are killed in the blast, and the oil leak begins.
  • April 22: The Deepwater Horizon sinks due to a second explosion, causing further damage to the oil pipeline. Coast Guard officials estimate that about 340,000 gallons of crude oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day. BP begins deploying remotely operated underwater vehicles to investigate the problem and close the blowout preventer valves.
  • April 27: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, sign an order establishing the procedure for an investigation into the cause of the explosion that started the oil spill.
  • April 28: BP begins a controlled burn of the oil slick on the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to reduce the environmental damage being done.
  • April 30: The Louisiana National Guard begins efforts to protect communities and marshlands from the effects of the oil spill. President Barack Obama announces that no oil drilling will be allowed in new locations until the cause of the initial Deepwater Horizon explosion is known. BP begins injecting chemicals near the site of the spill to break up and disperse the oil.
  • May 2: BP begins efforts to drill a relief well, which will divert oil so the damaged pipeline can be plugged. This effort is expected to take 2 to 3 months. By this time, six attempts to close the valves with remotely operated underwater vehicles have failed. Government officials announce a 10-day fishing ban in affected waters.
  • May 5: BP announces that one of three leaks along the pipeline has been repaired. Unfortunately, this will not affected the amount of oil being leaked.
  • May 7: BP attempts to end the leak by lowering a four-story-tall containment dome onto the pipeline. The plan fails due to a buildup of methane hydrate crystals at the top of the dome, caused by an interaction of the leaking crude oil with cold ocean water. The fishing ban is extended to May 17.
  • May 16: BP successfully inserts a 9-mile tube into the broken pipeline. This tube diverts some of the leaking oil to a nearby drill ship. Over the course of 9 days, about 924,000 gallons of oil are diverted. However, this pipe is shut down when BP’s newest attempt to stop the leak, the “top kill” plan, begins.
  • May 17: BP begins work on a second relief well.
  • May 18: The fishing ban is lengthened and extended to about 19% of the US-owned portions of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • May 26: BP begins its “top kill” plan to end the oil leak. In this method, heavy liquid is pumped into the well in an attempt to overpower the rising oil, which will then be sealed off with cement. At the same time, the company uses a “junk shot” method to clog the pipeline’s blowout preventer with waste materials such as tire rubber. These methods ultimately fail.
  • May 31: BP begins plans to lower a second cap onto the broken pipeline. According to this plan, the damaged pipeline will be cut near the blowout preventer, and the cap will be lowered onto it. This plan is currently still underway.

Unfortunately, despite repeated efforts to stem the oil leak, officials estimate that it is still leaking up to 500,000 gallons of oil every day. Officials are also warning that the leak may not be contained until August 2010, when construction of the relief wells should be completed. In the meantime, extensive harm continues to be inflicted on the ecology, residents, and businesses of the Gulf Coast region.

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