This is a weekly series by Verite News Fellow J’Brionne Helaire recounting historic moments in Louisiana history.

Fire boat response crews battling the remnants of the marine oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes, and cutters responded to rescue survivors of the 126-person crew. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

On this day, April 20, in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers were killed and 17 were injured. It would become the largest oil spill in history.

The Deep Horizon was owned and operated by Transocean, an offshore drilling company contracted by BP. 

Studies found that 4 million barrels of oil leaked from the well over nearly a three-month period before it was capped on July 15, 2010. The petroleum spewing from the well extended over more than 57,500 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. Cleanup crews, headed by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency used 1.8 million gallons of dispersants to break up the oil in the water. The spill contaminated beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, polluting an estimated 1,100 miles of shoreline.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 people working in the fishing industries were left unemployed and thousands of animals, including birds, mammals and sea turtles, died as a result of the oil spill. 

Tar balls are seen washed ashore on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Florida on June 16, 2010. Credit: Drew Buchannan via Wikimedia Commons

BP established a $20 billion compensation fund for those who were impacted. The company also agreed to pay $4.5 billion in penalties and fines, with a percentage going to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. 

Transcocean agreed to pay a $1 billion civil penalty under the Clean Water Act of which $800 million was earmarked for restoration projects in the gulf. The company Transocean also paid a $400 million criminal penalty for criminal violations of the Clean Water Act.  Others, including Halliburton, which had installed a concrete core to seal the well, were also held liable and had to pay penalties for their role in the oil spill. 

A report by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling found that the oil spill was due to a lack of regulatory oversight by the government and “negligence and time-saving measures by BP and its partners.”

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J’Brionne Helaire is a senior mass communication major at Dillard University. She is the editor-in-chief of Dillard University’s newspaper, The Courtbouillon. Helaire has interned for The Times-Picayune,...