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The BP Oil Spill: Not the Company's First Environmental Disaster

Jul 1, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

British Petroleum (BP)’s Deep Horizons oil spill is looking to be the worst environmental disaster in US history. In April of 2010, an exploratory offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, blowing open a subsurface oil well. Eleven people were killed. Originally, the company estimated the oil well was gushing approximately 1,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico; today, current estimates put the total at around 35,000-60,000 barrels per day—with no end to the spill in sight.

The spill has already seriously damaged fish populations as well as the fishing and tourism industries in the area—but the full economic and environmental effects have only begun to be felt. And of all the oil companies out there, it’s no surprise that BP was the one behind this disaster. The company’s environmental record is less than stellar—and while this may be the biggest oil spill in the history of oil spills, it’s not BP’s first environmental disaster.  Between 1997 and 1998 alone, according to PIRG, BP was responsible for over 100 oil spills. Here are a few of its bigger environmental disasters.

Sea Gem Offshore Drilling Disaster (1965)

Oil Spill

In December of that year, BP moved its first offshore oil rig, Sea Gem. The move went awry, two of its legs collapsed, and the entire rig capsized, killing thirteen crewmembers.

Landunvez Oil Spill (1978)

In March, the crude carrier Amoco Cadiz ran aground near Landunvez in France. At the time, this disaster was one of the largest oil spills in history. BP Amoco was ordered to pay $120 million in damages over ten years after the disaster.

Hazardous substance dumping (1993-1995)

BP settled in 1999 for $22 million for illegally dumping hazardous wastes on Endicott Island in Alaska’s North Slope from 1993 to 1995 on a continuous basis. The culprit was BP’s contractor in the area, Doyon Drilling, which dumped paint thinner, waste oil, and other hazardous materials into the environment, and BP didn’t report it—in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

Texas City Refinery Explosion (2005)

Oil Spill

BP’s Texas City refinery is one of its largest—and in 2005, it exploded. Fifteen people were killed, 180 were injured, and thousands of nearby residents were in dangerous proximity to the blast. The cause of the explosion was determined to be a series of smaller accidents that had occurred as a result of maintenance and safety cuts that had been made to save costs. After the explosion, the company was investigated by OSHA and the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, all of which found serious safety and management failures that could be traced all the way up to executive leadership. Ultimately, the company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act.


Prudhoe Bay Oil Spill (2006-2007)

Oil Spill

In 2006, BP canceled its oil drilling activities in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, because of corrosion in its pipelines. Due to corrosion, crude oil and diesel fuel were leaking form the pipes into the area between the wells and the ice. Over the course of the spill, over 1,513 barrels of toxic liquids was leaked into the environment—as well as polluted gravel and snow. In 2007, the company shut down another operation because of contaminated water leaks. That same year, BP spilled approximately 2,000 gallons of methanol, crude oil and contaminated water at Prudhoe Bay.

There’s no question that BP’s safety measures leave something to be desired. In addition to the above disasters, workers have been killed at several discrete accidents at BP facilities; several scientists who all worked in the same BP facility were found to have developed brain cancer from work-related causes; and there was another BP plant explosion in the 1980’s. The Deep Horizons oil spill may be the result of a long tradition of lax safety in the interest of cutting costs—a tradition that has claimed lives and been disastrous for the environment.

A Focus On Oil Spill Prevention and Clean Up

There are plenty of online courses that have been made available over the last few years that focus on training individuals on the prevention and clean up of tragic disasters like the one in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a small selection of online courses that will help anyone to develop a better understanding of the environment, how to take measures to prevent environmental incidents, and, unfortunately, what to do in the case of an environmental disaster.

Spill Prevention, Control, And Countermeasure Plan

The online spill prevention and containment training program has been created to aid individuals in developing their understanding of various components of the Spill Preventions, Control and Countermeasure Act.

Spill Prevention and Release Reporting

This course presents an in-depth view of the federal requirements for Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans. It also provides a complete analysis of the development of SPCC rules and regulations.

HazWoper 24-Hour Moderate Risk

This self-paced HazWoper education course on the Internet meets the OSHA/EPA training requirements for workers performing hazardous waste site functions in accord with the provisions of 29 CFR 1910.120.

Environment Boot Camp

The online Basic Environment Boot Camp Program was created to offer students a flexible method for developing an in-depth understanding of a broad range of environmental laws regulations and their application to today's industries.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act Online

This class covers the Compensation and Liability Act, which governs companies’ responsibility to clean up contamination from hazardous waste disposal.  This class helps students gain a basic understanding of the regulatory process, how disposal sites are assessed and how remediation is handled.  You’ll learn about the Superfund program, hazard ranking systems, the National Contingency Plan, and cleanup and abatement orders. 

NASA | Satellites View Growing Gulf Oil Spill -



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