Story Summary

Oil in the Gulf

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

In April 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and fouled the Louisiana coastline and other parts of the Gulf with millions of barrels of oil. It was one of the worst oil spills in history.

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LA Natl GuardGov. Bobby Jindal has told the U.S. secretaries of defense and homeland security that he wants the National Guard mobilized to fight the oil spill heading for Louisiana’s coast.

In a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he asks for money for at least 90 days of military duty for up to 6,000 soldiers and airmen. Jindal made the request under a federal law that would let the National Guard members get military retirement points, health insurance and disability protection.

He asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to approve environmental disaster money for the mobilization, and to require “the owners of the Deepwater Horizon facility responsible for this oil spill” to pay all costs and damages from the oil spill and state recovery efforts.

100428-5682D-000The Navy is sending equipment to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Navy bases are being used as staging areas for the operation.

And that’s just probably the beginning of a larger Pentagon effort to deal with the environmental disaster.

Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez said Thursday that 66,000 feet of inflatable boom and seven skimming systems are on their way to the Navy base in Gulfport, Miss. The help is being provided under an existing pollution cleanup agreement between the Navy and Coast Guard.

The Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida will be used as a staging area for equipment used by Coast Guard contractors.

The White House has asked the Defense Department to be ready for additional requests.

captureGovernor Bobby Jindal issued a state declaration of emergency in preparation for predicted impact of oil along the Louisiana coast leaking from the Deepwater Horizon which threatens the state’s natural resources.

A BP official says the company has asked the federal government with help examining the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is threatening the U.S. shoreline.

BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said at a news conference on Thursday that the company has asked the Department of Defense if they can help with better underwater equipment than is available commercially.

He says the company has specifically asked for imaging techniques and remote operating vehicles.

Deepwater Horizon.Buring and Going down. 022Friday evening, the United States Coast Guard suspended the search and rescue operation for the 11 men missing in the oil rig explosion.

The 11 missing crewmembers from the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon are still unaccounted for after Tuesday night’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard reports that at 10:21 a.m. Thursday the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil rig sunk into the Gulf of Mexico. Officials tell ABC26 News this development means the environmental implications from the explosion and fire will become a much bigger issue.

Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael O’Berry tells CNN, “You’ve got almost 336,000 gallons of sweet light crude oil, per day, that was coming out of that well. That oil will be released into the water now. The priority is working with our partners in this, especially BP, in getting the environmental part of this under way.”

Meanwhile, the search and rescue teams are continuing to look for the missing 11 employees unaccounted for after the Tuesday night explosion. However, officials are say the missing workers may have been near the explosion.

Rescue crews have covered the 1,940-square-mile search area by air 12 times and by boat five times, Petty Officer Casey Baker said Thursday. The boats continued searching all night. Officials hoped the 11 missing workers might have been able to get to a covered lifeboat with enough supplies to survive for an extended period.

Transocean Ltd. spokesman Guy Cantwell said 111 workers who made it off the Deepwater Horizon safely after Tuesday night’s blast were ashore Thursday, and four others were still on a boat that operates an underwater robot. A robot will eventually be used to stop the flow of oil or gas to the rig, cutting off the fire. He said officials have not decided when that will happen.

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Seventeen others hurt in the blast had been brought to shore Wednesday with burns, broken legs and smoke inhalation. Four of those were critically injured.

A slow trek across the water brought most of the uninjured survivors to Port Fourchon, where they were checked by doctors before being brought to a hotel in suburban New Orleans to reunite with their relatives early Thursday.

One worker said he was awakened by alarms and scrambled to get on a life boat.

“I’ve been working offshore 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said the man, who like others at the hotel declined to give his name.

Stanley Murray of Monterey, La., was reunited with his son, Chad, an electrician aboard the rig who had ended his shift just before the explosion.

“If he had been there five minutes later, he would have been burned up,” a relieved Stanley Murray said.

The rig owned by Transocean was under contract to oil giant BP and was doing exploratory drilling about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

The 400-by-250-foot rig is roughly twice the size of a football field, according Transocean’s website. While it was burning, a column of boiling black smoke rose hundreds of feet over the Gulf of Mexico. Officials said environmental damage appeared minimal so far, as the leaking oil & gas was burning and not leaking into the surrounding water.

Adrian Rose, vice president of Transocean, said the explosion appeared to be a blowout, in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe and smashes the equipment. But precisely what went wrong was under investigation.

A total of 126 workers were aboard. Seventy-nine were Transocean workers, six were BP employees and 41 were contracted.

The blast could be one of the nation’s deadliest offshore drilling accidents of the past half-century.

One of the deadliest was in 1964, when a catamaran-type drilling barge operated by Pan American Petroleum Corp. near Eugene Island, about 80 miles off Louisiana, suffered a blowout and explosion while drilling a well. Twenty-one crew members died. The deadliest offshore drilling explosion was in 1988 about 120 miles off Aberdeen, Scotland, in which 167 men were killed.

Rose said the Deepwater Horizon crew had drilled the well to its final depth, more than 18,000 feet, and was cementing the steel casing at the time of the explosion.

“They did not have a lot of time to evacuate. This would have happened very rapidly,” he said.

According to Transocean’s website, the rig was built in 2001 in South Korea and is designed to operate in water up to 8,000 feet deep, drill 5½ miles down, and accommodate a crew of 130. It floats on pontoons and is moored to the sea floor by several large anchors.

Workers typically spend two weeks on the rig at a time, followed by two weeks off. Offshore oil workers typically earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year – more if they have special skills.

Working on offshore oil rigs is a dangerous job but has become safer in recent years thanks to improved training, safety systems and maintenance, said Joe Hurt, regional vice president for the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf, according to the federal Minerals Management Service.

Horizon Fire 6Bradley Shivers and Scott Russell are life long fisherman. They thought they’d encountered just about everything out on the open seas, that is until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last week.

“About 9:45pm we saw what appeared to be kind of a fire on the rig then we heard a big explosion about 20 seconds later” Russell says. Shivers adds, “It sounds like sonic booms coming across, if ever hear a jet, sonic boom, I mean just rumbling, 17, 18 miles away, its pretty frightening to hear that sound from that distance.”

Within minutes, the maydays starting coming across the radio, so the duo set off in the direction of the rig….within 25 minutes, they started finding people clinging to life rafts…..Russell says the scene was chaotic. “There were some people hollering, some people just in shock and couldn’t say anything” Russell explains.

They tried to bring the injured on board their vessel, but were told by the Coast Guard they needed to help bring medical supplies to another nearby ship that had just arrived on scene. They say they were not only concerned about the men in the water, but concerned for their own lives as well. Russell says, “You couldn’t get within half a mile without feeling like you were gonna burn up, I mean we would have to run up, pull the boat back, spin and get back.”

Now, the fisherman are trying to help some of the injured rig workers, by giving statements about what they saw to attorney Berney Strauss. He’s representing some of the oil rig workers. But whatever you do, the fishermen say– don’t call them heroes. “I’d say no, go find a rescue helicopter jumper or someone else, no, not at all” Shivers says.

Shivers and Russell plus their other fishing buddy ended up staying around on scene near the oil rig until 3:30 in the morning….waiting until every single person was rescued from the water before they left to go back and fish for some tuna.

Deepwater Horizon oil cleanup 01One thousand barrels per day is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon well.

Coast Guard officials say steps are being taken to cap the well. Robot submarines are on the floor of the gulf trying to turn valves that would hopefully stop the leak.

In addition to the robots, this 450 ton machine is on the floor and it will attempt to capture the oil using pipes and hoses to pump it to a vessel on the surface.

Complicating efforts to stop the leak is the well head’s depth. It’5,000 feet underwater.

Deepwater Horizon fire 01The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended the search for the 11 missing crewmembers from the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement was made at 5 pm Central time. Coast Guard representatives say they believe the workers never made it off the platform before the rig exploded.

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Troedsson said he spoke with all the workers’ families about the decision to suspend the search before announcing it to the media. “I’m a father and husband, and I have done this a few times before. It’s never easy. Your heart goes out to these people,” Troedsson said.

The Coast Guard says it will resume the search if any ships in the area see anything, but the workers’ chances of survival had seemed slim well before Friday afternoon’s announcement. “The time of reasonable expectation of survivability has passed,” Rear Adm. Mary Landry said.

As for the Deepwater Horizon, after burning for more than two days, the platform is now underwater. With it, tanks holding 700,000 gallons of diesel. Whether or not that diesel is contained is unknown. “We don’t know if some of it burned off when it sank and some of it’s still in the tanks. So they’re assessing that now with underwater robots- they’re taking a look to see if there’s any fuel if the tanks have been damaged”, says Senior Chief Mike O’Berry from the U.S. Coast Guard.

That means the potential for serious pollution. BP is responsible for the cleanup while the Coast Guard is assisting them. O’Berry says they can’t guarantee the oil won’t make it to the land, so oil spill response will be a big priority.

Deewater Horizon fire – Coast Guard 03A number of the rescued oil rig workers are hiring lawyers and some say a huge legal battle is brewing.

Berney Strauss is representing some of the men. He’s been practicing maritime law for years, but has never seen a disaster this bad. “I cant remember a worse one, there have been a number on the Gulf but this ranks right up among the top” Strauss says.

Now, Strauss is preparing his clients for a legal war, as he expects Transocean to file a lawsuit in federal court against the workers…it sounds strange but it’s a legal way they may be able to get out of paying damages. “If the ship owner, that is Transocean, can show that they had no privity of knowledge of any negligence that was involved or any defective equipment that is un-seaworthiness is the legal term, then they theoretically don’t have to pay anything” Strauss says.

Still, he thinks the victims will all see some money. “I would think it will be hundreds of millions of dollars” he adds.

Unfortunately, it could take years….and in the meantime, those workers could be seriously struggling. Strauss explains, “Under the Jones Act, the company only has to pay the worker a small amount called maintenance and that’s like $25 a day.”

The one piece of advice Strauss says he’d give all the men…don’t talk. Consult an attorney to learn more about your rights before you say or sign anything.