BP’s Damage Control: A Timeline

When did Tony Hayward say, “I want my life back”? How many times did Joe Barton apologize and unapologize to BP? Your source for spill trivia.

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Read also: MoJo‘s complete BP coverage, Julia Whitty on the oil spill cover-up, and the rest of our special report on BP’s deep ocean secrets.

5/2000 Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates deepwater-drilling worst-case leak at 116,000 barrels per day (BPD), causing underwater plumes: “There are few practical spill-response options for dealing with submerged oil.”

7/2000 BP unveils “Helios” logo as part of “Beyond Petroleum” rebranding. Meanwhile, it’s slashing costs, firing engineers, and pursuing high-risk, high-reward projects known as “elephants.”

4/2002 During spill-response practice runs, oil companies convince regulators to ease public notification rules. Tests reveal oil companies rely on 30-year-old technology. No regulatory changes result.

3/2003 MMS considers mandating remote-control shut-off switches for blowout preventers, but decides against it under pressure from oil companies, including BP.

3/2005 BP Texas refinery blows, killing 15. Prior BP cost-benefit analysis, written as Three Little Pigs fable, found it cheaper to pay off family of pigs (workers) than prevent wolf (explosion).

6/2007 NOAA signs off on deepwater drilling. Forecast: 26,575 barrels spilled over 40 years—around 1/200th what BP well will gush in 3 months.

3/12/2010 Confidential survey of Transocean rig workers finds many worried about safety practices, feared reprisals if concerns were reported, and said that “drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance.” NYT will also later report rig not fully inspected since 2000.

3/31 Obama proposes expanding offshore drilling.

4/1 Transocean’s Swiss-owned, Marshall Island-flagged, BP-licensed Deepwater Horizon rig passes third federal inspection since January. BP uses loophole to write off 70% of rent, saving $225,000 a day.

Rig Explodes

4/20 Blowout preventer fails. Deepwater Horizon explodes, killing 11 men. Rig sinks 2 days later.

4/22 Video later surfaces of NOAA war room on this day. Whiteboard shows estimate: “64-100K barrels per day.”

4/22 BP buys up a third of the world’s dispersants.

4/24 BP’s spill estimate: 1,000 BPD. Begins applying Corexit dispersant—banned in the UK and never used subsurface—at well’s head.

4/28 When BP robots fail to cinch leak, US Coast Guard (USCG) distances itself from BP spill estimate, cites 5,000 BPD. Surface oil burns begin.

4/29 USCG admiral: “BP, from Day 1, has attempted to be very responsive and be a very responsible spiller.” White House on offshore drilling: “The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely, and without any harm to the environment.”

5/2 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledges to “keep the boot on the neck” of BP.

5/2 NOAA bans fishing in 8,000 sq. mile area. BP promises to pay all “legitimate” claims.

5/3 BP CEO Tony Hayward: spill “wasn’t our accident.”

5/7 BP tries a 100-ton containment dome. It fails. So does “junk shot.”

5/11 Before Congress, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton executives blame each other for the rig’s failure. BP fights congressional attempts to make footage of spill public.

5/13 Smaller “top hat” dome attempted. Fails.

5/13 NYT reports MMS allowed drilling to proceed without permits, and staff scientists were “regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur.”

5/13 Transocean cites the 1851 Limitation of Liability Act to limit claims against it to $26.7 million—what BP owed it in rent for rig.

5/14 Hayward: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water.”

5/17 Independent scientists report giant plumes of oil 4,270 ft. below surface; largest is 3 miles wide and 10 miles long. NOAA denounces as “misleading” and “premature.”

5/18 No-fishing zone now 46,000 sq. miles.

5/18-6/3 CBS reporters threatened with arrest if they film oil on beach. MoJo‘s Mac McClelland encounters press-only blockades of public beaches. Pilots told they can’t fly press over spill site. Feds tell Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) he can’t bring cameraman with him on tour of site.

5/20 BP says spill is 5,000 BPD. Independent scientists say it’s 100,000 BPD.

5/20 EPA demands that BP start using less-toxic dispersants. BP refuses.

5/20 “Spill-cam” goes live. Previous spill rates clearly woefully inadequate. Nation freaks.

5/24 Investigation of MMS Louisiana office details how employees traded porn links, took meth, and partied on oil companies’ dime.

5/26 BP begins “top kill,” which involves pumping 30,000+ barrels of toxic fluids to plug the leak. Procedure has never been attempted at this depth.

5/27 Feds now say spill 25,000 BPD max—which still makes it worst in US history. Obama declares 6-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling. Head of MMS resigns. 22-mile plume headed toward Alabama.


5/28 Obama visits Grand Isle, La. BP buses in workers to stage Potemkin cleanup.

5/28 Hayward says top kill is “going pretty well according to plan.” 24 hrs. later, it has failed.

5/30 Hayward blames cleanup workers’ illnesses not on fumes but on “food poisoning.” Adds, “I would like my life back.” Also: “The oil is on the surface. There aren’t any plumes.”

6/1 MoJo reports cleanup workers under BP gag rule.

6/1 BP: “We haven’t provided respirators or masks because all the environmental data shows the air is safe.”

6/1 Justice Department launches criminal and civil probes into spill. BP hires Dick Cheney’s former press flack.

6/3 BP spends $50 million on image-improvement ads. To date, it’s only paid $43 million to victims.

6/7 Obama says he talks to experts so he knows “whose ass to kick.”

6/8 Government scientists confirm existence of large underwater plumes.

BP using paper towels to clean up the spill

6/11 MoJo reports BP using paper towels to clean up oil.

6/15 Rival oil execs tell Congress their spill response would be much better. But their plans—including possible effects on walruses(!)—are revealed to be “cookie cutter” copies of BP’s, prepared by same consultant. “The only technology you seem to be relying on is the Xerox machine,” says Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

6/16 BP chairman says he cares about “the small people” of the Gulf.

6/16 BP establishes $20 billion fund for damages. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizes to Hayward for government’s “shakedown.” Barton has received $1.5 million from oil industry since 1999. He then apologizes for apology, before backtracking and unapologizing for the second apology.

6/17 Hayward “cannot recall” much of anything in congressional testimony. But insists BP has “focused like a laser on safety.”

7/15 BP caps well temporarily, doesn’t allow for a flow-rate test to establish true spill rate.

7/15 BP admits to lobbying UK for prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, where it has $900 million in business, but denies asking for release of Lockerbie bomber. Calls story “old news.”

7/16 BP found putting scores of scientists on payroll for $250 per hour, provided they don’t share research with public for 3 years.

7/22 EPA: Air quality along Louisiana coast comparable to a bad L.A. smog day.

7/27 Hayward resigns with $930,000 annual pension. Says BP “is a model of good social corporate responsibility.”

8/1 31 of 33 deepwater rigs in Gulf still operating.

Obama on a beach


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