The Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill: A Timeline

Photo from the gCaptain Blog

I spent a summer as an undergraduate in Port Fourchon, Louisiana conducting field work. Some of my fondest memories surround that summer I spent in 130% humidity and 130˚ heat. Like many others, I’ve intently watched a human tragedy take its tole and a potential environmental diaster unfold. Below I provide a timeline of events.

Tuesday, April 20th-A Transocean rig called the Deepwater Horizon explodes and catches fire, approximately 42 miles Southeast of Venice, Louisiana, while finishing a well for British Petroleum. U.S. Coast Guard District Eight command center receives report at approximately 10 p.m. Of the 126 people on board at the time of the explosion, 115 crewmembers were accounted for. Of these 115, 17 were medevaced from the scene. Search begins for missing 11.

Wednesday, April 21st-Officials state environmental damage will be minimal. BP mobilizes an armada of ships and aircraft to contain the oil slick.

Thursday, April 22nd-The fire rages. Mid-morning Thursday a second explosion occurs causing the rig to sink. 700,000 gallons of diesel are enclosed tanks inside the pontoons at the time of the initial explosion. Unclear if diesel remains contained.

Friday, April 23rd-Coast Guard state no oil appears to be escaping from the well head on the ocean floor. The U.S. Coast Guard suspends its search for the 11 missing crewmembers at approximately 5 p.m. ending a three day search that included 28 air and ocean craft and covered ~5,375 square miles.

Saturday, April 24th-With remotely operated vehicles, officials discover the oil is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface.  Leaks appear to be releasing 1,000 barrels a day.

Sunday, April 25-The oil slick covering 600 square miles and spreading north, is about 70 miles south of the Mississippi and Alabama coastline.

Monday, April 26-The oil slick stretches 80 miles across the Gulf and is 36 miles southeast of Louisiana. Cleanup crews set up booms to block as much oil as possible from coming ashore.  Remote operative vehicles are full day into operations to sea oil well on ocean floor. Reuters- “The leaking well, 5,000 feet under the ocean surface off Louisiana’s coast, has created an oil sheen and emulsified crude slick with a circumference of about 600 miles, covering about 28,600 square miles (74,070 sq. km), the Coast Guard said on Tuesday. That’s slightly bigger than the U.S. state of West Virginia….The spill, however, is not comparable with the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled about 11 million gallons (50 million liters) of oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska when it ran aground in 1989. BP’s well is spewing about 42,000 gallons (190,900 liters) of oil a day into the ocean, the Coast Guard estimates.”

Tuesday, April 27-Officials consider setting fire to the slick, which has grown to 100 miles across. The fast-moving spill is about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast. A controlled burn of the surface oil is now considered. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar say they are expanding the government’s investigation of the explosion that caused the disaster. Obama administration officials meet with top executives of BP. Governor Bobby Jindal requests tCoast Guard set up protective booms around several wildlife refuges.

(Photo Credit: NASA) NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of the Gulf of Mexico on April 25, 2010 using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. Click image for high resolution and further details

Wednesday, April 28-The slick nears to 20 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. British Petroleum states a controlled test to burn the leaking oil was successful late Wednesday afternoon. NOAA-“Workers finish a containment chamber portion of a collection doom that will collect oil escaping from the well at the seafloor. The first rig to drill a relief well arrives on site and will commence drilling on Friday but will not be ready for several months. Good weather allows for both skimming operations and aggressive aerial application of dispersants – over 50,000 gallons of dispersant have been applied to the surface oil in the last two days.”  The U.S. Coast Guard move ahead with a plan to burn off some of the crude from the slick. Mineral Management Service calls off luncheon “to present its annual award for exemplary safety and environmental management.”  BP among list of finalists.

Thursday, April 29th-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declares a state of emergency and the federal government sends in skimmers and booms to prevent environmental damage. At morning, the spill is roughly 16 miles off the Louisiana coast and stretches across a 600-mile area. Updated models indicate the the slick may reach parts of the coast by later today or early Friday.  President Obama designates the spill of national significance allowing personnel and equipment from other regions to be more easily mobilized and transfered to the scene.  BBC-President Barack Obama said BP was “ultimately responsible for funding… clean-up operations”. he US homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is to visit the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow.  BP stocks plummit by 7% when admission that oil is leaking faster than original speculations.  At current rate of oil leakage in 58 days it will surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster as the largest oil spill in U.S. history. BP official on the Today Show welcomes help from all parties including U.S. military. Concerns grow on impact to Louisiana seafood and tourism industry. As of 8:42pm, “Faint fingers of oily sheen have reached the mouth of Mississippi River…By sunset Thursday, the oil had crept into South Pass of the river and was lapping at the shoreline in long, thin lines.” Jean-Michel Cousteau releases statement of dismay and asks all ot expect more of their governments, “Write your Congressional and State representatives demanding their support for alternative energy technologies and policies at all levels of government, including subsidies.” Senator Bill Nelson FL-D drafts legislation to suspend the Obama administration’s plan of offshore exploration and drilling until a full investigation of diaster and the development of new protocols are developed.

Friday, April 30th-Satellite photos from NASA are released showing a finger of the slick reaching the delta.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

68 Replies to “The Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill: A Timeline”

  1. I live on the gulf coast, this is going to completely ruin our summer economic boost. Shrimping is huge here. But due to this spill there will be no shrimping inner coastal waterways. You haven’t just sunk a rig you’ve sunk an entire economy.

  2. What a huge price to pay in order for the cheerleaders of “drill here…” to STFU.

  3. While the spill represents a serious loss for the people whose livelihood depends upon coastal industries, it also represents serious, long-term (possibly permanent) damage to a delicate ecosystem. The survival of all life on the planet depends upon the preservation of ocean life in its myriad forms. It is a bleak reminder of the dangers of off-shore drilling.

  4. This will not be Permanent. It may be long lasting but Nature will overcome this as It has always done (i.e. Prince William Sound). Man made this disaster and man will clean it up. Stuff happens all the time but when it happens to you…..

    1. not permanant? tell that to the species of birds and sea turtle that scientist fear very well may go EXSTINCT from this. This is much bigger than prince william sound, and what is more, most spills and catasprophes never are completely cleaned up. They are absorbed into the environment. Where does man put what he cleans up anyway? Somewhere else in your environment! All these episodes are collective. there is such a thing called a tipping point.

  5. Actually, Prince William Sound hasn’t fully recovered and Exxon never paid the original fine. Google it for cryin’ out loud.

  6. It has always done (i.e. Prince William Sound).. I personally fly Prince William for a living. ANY beach will “soup” crude at 6-8″. It’ll seep into the Prince William for centuries. There is a very big difference between Prince William and the Gulf, the temperature of the water, while the Gulf will support oil eating microbes, the cold arctic will not. Microbes, booms, none will save one of the most diverse ecosystems to be found in the world. This crude will seep miles into and saturate the swamps that filter the delicate saline balance while providing an incredible amount of the seafood we consume. Not only will crude oil increase, food, especially sea food of all types, supply/demand will increase dramatically. Most are clueless as to where the murcury comes from in both fresh and salt water fish, coal fired power plants. Time to grow up, we only have 2% of the crude supply and our way of life requires 20.. something’s gotta give, or forget your childrens childrens future

  7. Kevin Zelnio – that is admirable that you ride a bike, however the chain requires oil, the axles require grease and the tires are no longer rubber based, they too are oil base. Many do not have the luxury to live 5 miles from our job. I have to travel anywhere from 20 – 100 miles each way to work. This is a devastating event and I hope that it does not get as bad as we are hearing. If you wanted to lessen your carbon footprint, you could walk to work.

    I love the fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, it is the best fishing anywhere. I have fished from Tampa to Gulf Port, Mississippi and will miss it this year because we changed our plans last week, to spend two weeks in Arizona to boycott the boycotters. :>)

  8. Good point Mike. We do use a lot of oil to keep this country going. What do we do, a plan, to change that? I heat with heating oil, I could change to what? Natural Gas? is that better? How about the morning commute? If we build rail service to handle this what happens to the car industry? The last time that industry was in trouble we had to bail them out, if you replace it with rail…you get my point? Trains do not solve the problem because they run on diesel. What about the plastics industry? How do we de crude that? This isn’t an easy problem.


    perspective on sources and quantities, and history of other blowouts. Any of you old enough to remember Ixtoc? The Tamu page links to this:

    Surprising similarities — extremely deep experimental well, collapsed rig prevented the blowout device from working at first; when it was triggered, the pressure was too much for it to work. Major spill. Interesting comparison.

    I wonder if they did a ‘lessons learned’ document on that one.

  10. Aw hell, can you believe this?

    Complete flat bullshit and nobody at Business Week challenges it.

    “In its 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well, BP suggested it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals.

    … “The sort of occurrence that we’ve seen on the Deepwater Horizon is clearly unprecedented,” BP spokesman David Nicholas told The Associated Press on Friday. “It’s something that we have not experienced before … a blowout at this depth.”

    IXTOC dammit. Do these people not bother to Google?
    Almost 30 years ago. TWICE as deep.
    Well ignited.
    Drilling rig collapsed.
    Blowout preventer didn’t work.

    From the incidentnews page:

    “On June 3, 1979, the 2 mile deep exploratory well, IXTOC I, blew out in the Bahia de Campeche, 600 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. … the well ignited, causing the platform to catch fire. The burning platform collapsed into the wellhead area …. the remotely operated vehicle TREC … attempted to find a safe approach to the Blowout Preventer (BOP). The approach was complicated by poor visibility and debris on the seafloor including derrick wreckage and 3000 meters of drilling pipe. Divers were eventually able to reach and activate the BOP, but the pressure of the oil and gas caused the valves to begin rupturing. The BOP was reopened to prevent destroying it …. The IXTOC I well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 – 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980.”

    DIVERS — they used divers that deep, to cap the well??!!

    1. Yes… my Dad went down that deep to work on that…. he was in sat a long time from what I understand.

  11. Divers capped the IXTOC well? How many meters down? Was that feasible, or is this misinformation (be it intentional or not)?

  12. arrrrgh. Have I been fooled by search results? The mention of divers really doesn’t make sense at the depth stated in the incident report linked above, which says the well was 2 miles deep and “debris on the seafloor including derrick wreckage and 3000 meters of drilling pipe.” — which is about that same length of pipe as the reported depth.

    But here’s a source for the very different number I saw today at NPR and other sources — that Google didn’t find yesterday but did find today with the same search terms.

    Google results do differ if you repeat them, that’s normal depending on which server of theirs you hit and how recently it got updated, so I do.

    Quite a difference:

    Halliburton says “The IXTOC No. 1 Well was drilled with a semisubmersible platform “Sedco 135″, hired by Pemex. The water depth was 50.5 m and the space between rotary table and the ocean floor was 83.7 m.”

  13. — and more Google results show up! Okay, it’s clear from the results I see now that the Incident Report is talking about pulling 2 miles of pipe up OUT of the well, then dropping all that pipe when the well blew out and the platform sank.

    The use of divers was a flag something wasn’t right.

    With the new info, I clearly read the incident report wrong — 2 miles deep meant the depth of pipe below the drillhead that was pulled up when problems started and fell back down when the platform sank.

    And a reminder the people working on the wells are risking their lives. Here’s a fatality report from the IXTOC operation:

    “… Anderson, working from the barge L.B. Meaders, working to kill the Ixtoc blowout, in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico, in 1979. … a very experienced saturation diver who was picked up by the vortex of the venting wellhead, and blown directly to the surface from saturation working depth of 165 fsw.

    Received by email 20080514

    The Taylor diver killed at Ixtoc blowout was Allan Anderson. Not Andy.
    Received by email 20080621

    Alan Anderson: Confirmed Taylor diver was in Saturation working on the Ixtoc well blowout. His hose was caught in the vortex of the blowout. He held on for some 20 minutes before being ripped from the collapsed well structure and died of explosive decompression. The diving was being done from saturation and I believe that after this event, all diving was done using surface air.

    1. Alan Andersen who died on August 15, 1979 was my father… he was very young. He had been to that site 2x and my Mum begged him not to go out again on that job. She was right because he died….. all this news brings up very painful thoughts …..

  14. Things will get better in due time. For you bleeding heart liberals, in order to make life better chances have to be taken that sometimes kick us on the crotch. I own a shrimp boat and yes I am loosing money on this unfortunate accident/catastrophy. So far there is noone to blame, possibly an accident or maybe some nut anarchist. I have a plan, I am going back to do what I was doing before Katrina until these waters are safe for shrimping. I hope it was an accident!

  15. BP should adopt the Britney song as its new motto: “Whoops, I did it again” …hope they´ll revise and double and treble their safety standards after this one…

  16. Thanks Dr. M for your timeline. Have you since added to it? I know I am not a scientist of any kind, I just teach general science to elementary students, but children should be aware of what an impact this oil spill will have in the future. We do not have to live along the coast to know this will not be an overnight fix, nor will it not be costly to us all. What saddens me the most, other than the livlihood of our people, is the suffering of animal and plant life. You do not have to have a degree in science to realize that.

  17. all i see here is complaints and blame.
    facts not related to our current problem.
    we need an immediate solution and a long term solution.

    short term. stop the flow of oil.
    has anyone stopped to think about the math of the volumes of oil being released and at what pressure.

    DO THE MATH. numbers like 2100 plus psi, yes 2 thousand 1 hundred pounds per square inch come up.
    thats a ruf number based on oil volume, rate and pipe sizes.
    thats how much pressure the oil is coming out of the pipes at.

    1 mile away from the site is where the people working around the clock are trying to stop
    the $5 plus million dollars per day leaking out into the ocean.
    water pressure at that depth requires the absolute best and most expensive types of equipment.
    BP is probably throwing money at it.
    if someone said make a giant gold brick and put it on top of the well head, they would probably try it.

    they will get it controlled, how long, who knows.
    then will be the court cases and the settlements and the law changes.
    yeah, all fixes closing the barn door after the horses have gone and the barn burning the farm down.

    we need to look at ourselves. for a long term solution.
    why do we need so much oil?
    are you going to sell your car for scrap and ride a bike?
    turn your air conditioner and heater off?
    buy BP stock so you can go to the board meetings and vote?
    what are you going to do?

    can anyone verify the oil pressure and release rates?

  18. Drill-drill-drill

    The corporation techno-mongers and their shills are loving this. Now we will HAVE to buy their farm raised “seafood”.

  19. I have an idea how we can avoid doing the same mistake as in alaska with exxon:

    1. The states Florida,Mississippi,Louisiana and Texas sue the invoved comapnies (BP,Transocean,etc) for their entire value (91.303bn+20.5bn= 101.803bn USD).
    Management is punished for 2 decades of cleaning the ocean.
    2. Liquidate BP,Transocean,etc
    3. Found a new company for environmental restauration which takes over all workers from BP,Transocean,etc
    4. The former managers of BP,Transocean,etc are employed as gardeners and work for free
    5. The new company has enough work for the years to come to clean all the mess created by BP and Transocean.
    if we assume 20years of cleaning and a monthly wage of 4258$ for 99600 workers,
    the cleaning can take up to 20years without additional costs!
    6. At the same time as the cleaning is done, we can think of new businesses to found for the workers. Alot of creativity can happen in 20years.

    Result: Everybody has work. The bad guys are punished. And other companies will refrain from doing the same mistake.

    Maybe, if alot of people like this idea, we can see it happen :) I would certainly like to see it!

    1. society is the bad guy. this would not have happened if we weren’t so dependent on oil.

  20. Did you guys know that for the gulf oil spill to reach 11 million gallons it would take approximatly 261.90476 days!

  21. Why did the government not require that relief wells be dug when the original well was dug? That requirement is enforced elsewhere in the world.

    1. RC Beattie
      I have been reading that ëxperts¨insisted thet relief wells be drilled along with all deep water wells and thet >Dick Chaney killed that, and he killed backup acustic BPV´s and that he capped liabilities on oil Co´s and /drillers. Is this fact?
      No media utters a word about it and ObaMA is mute- I presume he is waiting for the media to turn up these facts. I tend to believe Chaney/bush eased the enviormentally related rules but I do not know the facts.

  22. i would bring in the navy to help deal with the problem they have gear the privet sector dosent have

  23. do you guys really think that they are telling the truth about anything? you can see that the pressure is alot more than a regular well. a good well is 1000 to 1500 psi and this one is much more. if they could seal it they would have all ready but its too much pressure. there are more than one leak also,there are several leaks not just where the rig was but 5 to 10 miles away. i believe this can not be stopped but we can only hope.”God speed”

  24. Why don’t BP put a funnel like cap over the leak and funnel the oil to the surface. That would eliviate some of the presure from bottom to try sealing the funnel, then work at the top to cap it.

  25. Last time I checked, BP, Shell, Chevron etc were in the business of drilling for oil and making profits for their share holders. Similiar to the Wall street meltdown, I was under the mistaken impression that it was up to the government to protect our none profitable interests such as environment and economic safety. Surely if this was so, our dozing representatives in Washington would be the one’s ponying up for cleaning and compensation costs? Turns out, the environmental emergency plans submitted by the drillers mentioned the protection of the “walruses” of the region and provided contact information for long dead experts in spill control. Clearly, the appropriate government agencies created paperwork hurdles for the drillers to jump through, then failed to even read the work they had demanded. I assume this is the case since even my pre teen children can identify the fact that the Carribean is not normally considered to be Walrus habitat.
    Let’s figure out a way to punish the folks really responsible for this second national disaster in less than two years, our dozing/dozy reps in Washington. Republican or Democrat, I am tired of our do nothing reps blaming people who actually do things for the reps failure to regulate. But wait, we all put them there! Oh well, guess we get what we deserve.

  26. We sent a man on the moon but we can’t go down a couple of miles down our oceans. Makes you think!?!?

    I know they tried a dome… why isn’t there a kind of very large cover; pod, huge dome, etc… with a hose collecting the oil. So what if some spills out? It’s still not right and would have to be cleaned up but there is a large amount of the oil that would be picked up from the source.

  27. The rig only cost $700M I say dismantle the rig and get to the source of the leaks. How many billions have been spend so far and still the problem remains. I live on the west coast of florida….sooner or later the entire gulf is going to be full of crude oil. How much could have been prevented if they would have thought of the ecosystem first….That is the problem with big business fix as cheap as possible but in the end it cost a zillion times more.

  28. On March 31, 2010 I read an article about Obama’s proposal to “open vast expanses of American coastlines to oil and natural gas drilling” and how the proposal was met with great oposition. Twenty days later the oil rig exploded. It seems very suspicious to me.

  29. I think that BP should have been more careful with the choices they make, I think they should think about the world and lives that they have put at risk. What they did was selfish and highly unacceptable. If all you can think about it money then obviously situations like this is bound to happen. I hope that Mexico and Louisiana can pull their lives and country back together with or WITHOUT BP’s help. I highly think the person who disagreed to shut down the Deepwater Horizon should be sacked…

    Best of luck to the families and businesses to work to gether and set everything straight.

  30. What the oil spill reminds me of is how inefficient and repulsive and greedy people are to get the big bucks.What is the condition of the EArth as a part of the Universe of GOD? The true condition is equality for all people those here now and those to come. Unfortunately Humanity likes to squaredance with vapid power mongers and ideas way ahead of the reality of the ability and concentration and worthiness of Humanity. The oil spills in this century may well have cancelled the future of our Children so we can thank Obama and all His minions for killing trillions of Life forms and people.You all are ineficient and shameless and without honor or intelligence why the fuck am I on this planet with you idiots anyways.GET OFF MY PLANET LOL

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