On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig was finishing up a drilling job at the Macondo lease site, a plot in the Gulf of Mexico 49 miles off the coast of Louisiana. At the time, the job was 43 days over schedule and $21 million over budget due to additional leasing fees. At 9:49 p.m., the rig exploded, leading to 11 deaths and the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The lessons from this tragedy are potent reminders of the pitfalls that can plague complex programs and projects in any industry, even (perhaps especially) those with long track records of success. Prior to the accident, Deepwater Horizon was one of the best-performing deepwater rigs in BP's fleet. In September 2009, it had drilled to a world-record total depth of 35,055 feet. As of April 2010, it had not had a single “lost-time incident” in seven years of drilling. The deficiencies that set the stage for this tragedy—government oversight, disregard for data, testing, changes to processes and procedures, safety culture, and communications—are common to other high-stakes, high-visibility accidents and failures.