What Caused the World’s Worst Oil Rig Accidents?

Flare on RigThe Deepwater Horizon disaster, which caused the BP oil spill and was the subject of a recent Hollywood blockbuster, resulted in the deaths of 11 workers and injuries for 17 more. The disaster resulted in the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history and devastated wildlife and tourism along the Gulf Coast. Was Deepwater Horizon the worst oil rig disaster in history?

Not even close.

  • The Piper Alpha disaster is the deadliest offshore oil rig accident in history. Piper Alpha was one of the biggest oil platforms in the UK. In July 1988, after a series of malfunctioning parts and a small gas leak, pressure led to a massive explosion on the platform. Of the 224 crewmembers, only 59 survived.
  • The Alexander L. Kielland was a semi-submersible oil platform in the North Sea. In March 1980, the platform capsized, flipping upside down and sinking into the ocean. The cause of the sinking was a massive storm with high winds, which snapped all six of the platform’s anchor cables. 123 of the 212 men onboard died, most due to drowning.
  • In November 1989, the Seacrest, a drillship in the South China Sea, was capsized by Typhoon Gay, which produced waves up to 40 feet high on the day of the accident. It is believed that the ship capsized so quickly that crewmembers did not have time to signal for help. Out of 97 crewmembers on board, only six survived.
  • In February 1982, Mobil Oil’s Ocean Ranger was drilling a well 166 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. A sudden storm gave the crew little time to prepare. In the early morning hours of February 15, the crew decided to abandon ship, but due to disastrous rescue efforts, all 84 crewmembers on board died.

Fortunately, oil rig disasters today are less frequent and less catastrophic. However, as we can see with Deepwater Horizon, negligence can still result in serious consequences for workers on these rigs.


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