Year
2010

Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

On this day in 2012, an explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP, the British oil giant. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.

The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a massive blaze. Of the 126 people on board the nearly 400-foot-long Deepwater Horizon, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon, constructed for $350 million in 2001, sank on April 22 in some 5,000 feet of water.

Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried unsuccessfully to activate a safety device called a blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, a variety of techniques were tried in an effort to plug the hemorrhaging well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Finally, on July 15, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and on September 19, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would inflict a heavy toll on the region’s economy, particularly the fishing and tourism industries, and wildlife. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.

In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill. It is anticipated that BP, which has set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the spill, will pay billions of dollars more in environmental penalties in the future.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“Mambo King” Tito Puente is born

Tito Puente, the bandleader and percussionist who helped popularize Latin dance music and jazz in America, is born on this day in 1923 in New York City. During a career that spanned six decades, the dynamic showman nicknamed “El Rey” (The King), recorded over 100 albums, won five ...read more

Siege of Londonderry begins

James II, the former British king, begins a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland.In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. ...read more

Ku Klux Act passed by Congress

With passage of the Third Force Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).Founded in 1865 by a ...read more

Curies isolate radium

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris. In 1898, the Curies discovered the existence of the elements radium and polonium in their research of pitchblende. One year after ...read more

Columbine High School massacre

On this day in 1999, two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, south of Denver. At approximately 11:19 a.m., Dylan Klebold, 18, and Eric Harris, 17, dressed in trench coats, began shooting students outside the school ...read more

Castro announces Mariel Boatlift

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day.The boatlift ...read more

Nivelle Offensive ends in failure

On this day in 1917, an ambitious Allied offensive against German troops near the Aisne River in central France, spearheaded by the French commander in chief, Robert Nivelle, ends in dismal failure. Nivelle, who had replaced Joseph Joffre in December 1915 as head of all French ...read more

Nixon announces more troop withdrawals

In a televised speech, President Nixon pledges to withdraw 150,000 more U.S. troops over the next year “based entirely on the progress” of the Vietnamization program. His program, which had first been announced in June 1969, included three parts. First, the United States would ...read more

“Fragging” on the rise in U.S. units

The Pentagon releases figures confirming that fragging incidents are on the rise. In 1970, 209 such incidents caused the deaths of 34 men; in 1969, 96 such incidents cost 34 men their lives. Fragging was a slang term used to describe U.S. military personnel tossing of ...read more

Jordan scores 63 points in playoff game

On April 20, 1986, the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan scores 63 points in an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics, setting a post-season scoring record. Despite Jordan’s achievement, the Bulls lost to the Celtics in double overtime, 135-131. Boston swept the three-game ...read more

First detective story is published

Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first appears in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. The tale is generally considered to be the first detective story.The story describes the extraordinary “analytical power” used by Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve ...read more

New sound process for films announced

By the mid-1920s, several competing systems had been developed to add sound to motion pictures. In 1923, inventor Lee de Forest demonstrated Phonofilm, in which music was recorded on a narrow strip at the edge of the film. When De Forest tried to sell Phonofilm to the major ...read more

A massacre at Columbine High School

Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At about11:20 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dressed in long trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By ...read more

Lee resigns from U.S. Army

Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States army two days after he was offered command of the Union army and three days after his native state, Virginia, seceded from the Union.Lee opposed secession, but he was a loyal son of Virginia. His official resignation was only ...read more