Just weeks after the West Virginia mine disaster shone a spotlight on the coal industry, an oil rig explosion has turned national attention to offshore drilling. BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, began burning on Tuesday, exploded, and by Thursday had sunk into the Gulf of Mexico. 115 workers were rescued, though a few were critically injured. 11 workers remain missing, and hope for their survival is slim.
BP and Transocean, the company that owned and operated the rig, were concerned yesterday that the well might be spilling oil; at the time of the explosion, Deepwater Horizon had been drilling 336,000 gallons per day and carried 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel onboard. Friday morning, however, the Coast Guard announced that oil was not leaking from the well. BP has sent an armada of response vessels to skim away the one-by-five-mile sheen surrounding the sunken rig and to monitor the well for any escaping oil.
If the 11 missing workers are not found, the human cost of this disaster will be the highest the U.S. offshore oil industry has seen since 1968. BP has been working to improve its safety record since one of its Texas refineries blew in 2005, killing 15 and injuring hundreds, so this disaster could undo some of the company's progress. If its sunken rig were to cause serious environmental damage, however, the setback for BP would be categorically more serious.