What happened in the Gulf?
On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 people and injuring dozens more who worked on the rig. An oil rig is a very large structure that is designed to support the workers and equipment that are needed to drill wells beneath the ocean floor. The rig that exploded was about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Some think that the explosion was caused by natural gas that escaped after they drilled a new well. But the government is still exploring exactly what happened in an effort to prevent similar disasters in the future.
After the initial explosion, the oil rig caught on fire and then toppled over, sinking into the ocean. As the rig sank, the pipe connected to the seabed broke. Almost immediately, oil started leaking into the ocean.
BP, a large oil company, leased the rig. The well was very deep—the drilling was taking place 5,000 feet below the surface and then another 13,000 feet beneath the seabed. (That depth is the equivalent of 10 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.) Oil rigs like the one that exploded are some of the largest structures in the oceans. They are designed to pump oil or natural gas from deep below the seabed, process the fuel, and pipe the oil or gas to the shore.