BP Gulf Oil Spill

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Definition: BP Gulf Oil Spill

BP Gulf Oil Spill

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Full Definition of BP Gulf Oil Spill

The BP Gulf Oil Spill (also called Gulf oil spill, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or Gulf of Mexico oil spill) is an oil spill that resulted from the explosion of a drilling well below the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. This well was under contract for British Petroleum Oil, Inc. (BP). The explosion was followed by the spewing of oil estimated at 5,000 barrels or up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil every day, making this potentially one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Over 100 lawsuits are reported to have been filed against companies associated with the oil spill. Lawsuits have been filed by families of the workers as well as by fishermen, restaurants, rental property owners, and other individuals or businesses who have suffered damage from the explosion, spill, and its effects.


BP is an international oil and gas company that employs over 80,000 people and operates in over 100 countries worldwide. BP uses different technologies to find oil and gas under the earth’s surface thereby reaching deeper reservoirs of resources. After discovering the resources, BP starts an extensive extraction process and moves the crude oil through pipelines and shipping.

On April 20, 2010, a BP offshore rig, known as the Deepwater Horizon, was drilling in the Gulf of Mexico about 52 miles southeast of the Louisiana Port of Venice. According to the coast guard, 11 to 15 crew members were reported missing after the oil rig caught on fire on April 20th and exploded. As of April 22nd, the oil rig sank into the sea leaving a plume of smoke spanning about 30 miles in the sky. When the rig sank off the southeast coast of Louisiana, the untapped wellhead was gushing oil into the Gulf. About 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the explosion. BP estimates the cost of clean-up to be approximately $760 million.

Environmental Impact

Currently, the rig’s well is under 5,000 feet of water, and efforts to cease the spillage could last weeks or months. Over 210,000 gallons of crude oil are leaking into the Gulf daily, eliminating aquatic life and smothering the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Gulf of Mexico contains an intricate ecosystem that serves as a source of 40% of the seafood consumed in the United States.

The Gulf of Mexico serves as a home for wildlife migrating between American and U.S. waters. Many are concerned about the oyster reefs in the Gulf of which only 15% remain worldwide. As the orange-colored oil reaches Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands, it becomes even more of a threat to the sea birds and other wildlife that occupy the area. Birds are turning up either dead or enveloped in oil. Other marine life, such as sea turtles and fish, are being killed by toxic emulsions permeating the sea.

Federal and State Law Regulating Oil Pollution

The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990 dictates that oil companies must be prepared to prevent spillage from rigs and ships. This statute assigns liability to “each responsible party for a vessel or a facility from which oil is discharged, or which poses the substantial threat of a discharge of oil, into or upon the navigable water or adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone ….” Any party violating this law is liable for removal costs and damages.

The Clean Water Act of 1977 (Pub. L. No. 95-217, Dec. 27, 1977, 91 Stat. 1566, 33 U.S.C.A. §§ 1251 et seq.) was an amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (Pub. L. 87-88, July 20, 1961, 75 Stat. 204, 33 U.S.C.A. §§ 1151 et seq.; 43 U.S.C.A. § 3906). The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was enacted to “enhance the quality and value of our water resources and to establish a national policy for the prevention, control, and abatement of water pollution.” This Act and its amendments provide the essential legal authority for federal regulation of water quality. In 1977, the Clean Water Act became an amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. This Act renders unlawful any discharge of pollutants from a source point into navigable waters of the United States without a special permit from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Since its enactment, this Act has also been augmented to include toxic pollutants, authorized citizen suits, and funding for sewage plants.

Lawsuits resulting from the BP Gulf Oil Spill

The floodgates of litigation have opened with a paper storm of class actions lawsuits by fishermen and others claiming substantial economic losses. More than 36 lawsuits are being pursued against BP, Transocean, Cameron International, and Halliburton as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Since BP owns the Deepwater Horizon well, its potential liability under the Oil Pollution Act is probably the highest. Specifically, 31 of these lawsuits are class-action suits filed in Texas and Florida. Plaintiffs include commercial fishermen, shrimpers, charter-boat operators and beachfront-property owners asked to represent anyone whose livelihood depends on coastal waters.

Industries adversely affected by this disaster include fishing, tourism, boating, real estate rentals, and various others.

On May 13, 2010 attorneys representing Transocean filed for protection from lawsuits based on 150-year-old maritime law. Although actual recovery could reach tens of billions of dollars, Transocean believes this law caps their liability at slightly under $27 million. To challenge the liability cap, attorneys suing Transocean must prove that the company knew about problems that caused the oil spill and could have taken actions to limit or stop the spill.

On June 16, 2010, the Obama Administration reached a preliminary agreement with British Petroleum which entails BP providing approximately $20 billion over several years in an escrow account. Special Master Kenneth Feinberg will administer these funds to compensate residents of the Gulf adversely affected by the oil spill. BP also suspended the company’s stock dividend.

Currently, approximately 300 lawsuits have been brought in federal court in New Orleans resulting from the oil spill. Due to conflict of interests, more than half of the federal judges are unable to preside over these cases. A judicial panel on multidistrict litigation decided that a single federal judge would hear the hundreds of federal lawsuits filed over the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. The panel assigned approximately 300 federal cases to Jurist Carl J. Barbier.

International Law

It is said that the BP oil spill has given increased importance and awareness to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This governing body encourages international peace and helps promote collaboration among countries in order to facilitate communication and dialogue with the goal of addressing global issues. Today, more than ever, countries need to take responsibility for the consequences of actions that take place inside their borders but have repercussions outside of their borders.

Related Phrases

Environmental Law
Law of the Sea
Fish and Fishing
Tort Law
Water Rights

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Definition Sources

Definitions for BP Gulf Oil Spill are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 22nd November, 2021 | 1 Views.