The Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill Analysis


On April 22, 2010, at about 10.30 a.m. local time, the Deepwater Horizon platform sank off the coast of the U.S. state of Louisiana, which led to the largest oil spill in the history of the United States (Stenzel et al., 2022). On the evening of April 20, a powerful gas explosion thundered on the platform that was developing the Macondo well, after which a fire started at the installation, attempts to extinguish it were in vain (Schwing et al., 2020). After a 36-hour fire, the platform sank (Stenzel et al., 2022). As a result, the pipeline through which oil flowed from the seabed to the platform was damaged. On April 24, the US Coast Guard found traces of an oil spill (Schwing et al., 2020). BP has made numerous and mostly unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the leak. However, according to expert estimates, up to 40,000 barrels of oil (more than 6 million liters) flowed into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico every day (Stenzel et al., 2022).

Contingency Theory

The contingency theory states that there is no single best way of the decision-making process. A leadership style that is effective in some situations can be a failure in others (Abedin, 2022). If the company aims to achieve effective management, then the methods should be adapted to the specific circumstances that the organization faces. From the standpoint of this theory, the fact that BP has made numerous attempts to eliminate the leak justifies the company even though they were unsuccessful (Abedin, 2022). However, most likely it was the violation of the principles of the theory that led to the spill. For example, drilling an unloading well took longer than the company expected. However, the engineers of the BP oil company continued to work according to the original project, without revising it (Araral, 2020). As a result, due to the lack of orientation to the current situation, the blockage of the emergency well was carried out for a very long time.

Participative Theory

The participative theory aims to overcome to encourage employees to participate consciously in solving issues on which the fate of the organization and, accordingly, the future of the employee depends. The employee’s awareness of the fact of their participation in the management of the enterprise serves as an incentive to improve the quality of their work and strengthen labor discipline (Vasilescu, 2019). Participation in management increases employees’ sense of responsibility for the quality of work (Owusu-Agyeman, 2019). From the position of this theory, the workers should not have waited for the official BP command but should have started to fix the problem immediately, making a decision as soon as it became known about the oil leak. This way it would be possible to fix the problem faster.

Transactional Theory

The transactional theory implies motivating and controlling influence on employees mainly by the method of remuneration in proportion to merit. One of the main components of transactional management that help the company achieve its goals is deviation management (Kraimer et al., 2022). With passive deviation management, the company’s management should intervene when the problem becomes serious, but refrain from taking steps until the problem is submitted for consideration (Kraimer et al., 2022). With active deviation management, the company needs to monitor the work of employees, take corrective measures in case of deviations from standards and ensure compliance with the rules to prevent mistakes. Since the problem with the oil leak was serious, it was necessary for the management to actively intervene in its solution, which was undertaken by BP.


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Araral, E. (2020). Why do cities adopt smart technologies? Contingency theory and evidence from the United States. Cities, 106(12), 128-133.

Kraimer, M.L., Shaffer, M. A., Bolino, M. C., Charlier, S. D., & Wurtz, O. (2022 A transactional stress theory of global work demands: A challenge, hindrance, or both? Journal of Applied Psychology, 7(5), 27-37.

Owusu-Agyeman, Y. (2019). Transformational leadership and innovation in higher education: A participative process approach. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 24(5), 694-716.

Schwing, P. T., Montagna, P. A., Joye, S. B., Paris, C. B., Cordes, E. E., McClain, C. R., Kilborn, J. P & Murawski, S. A. (2020). A synthesis of deep benthic faunal impacts and resilience following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Frontiers in Marine Science, 71(2), 588-598.

Stenzel, M. R., Groth, C. P., Banerjee, S., Ramachandran, G., Kwok, R. K., Engel, L. S., Sandler, D.P. & Stewart, P. A. (2022). Exposure assessment techniques applied to the highly censored Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill personal measurements. Annals of Work Exposures and Health, 66(1), 247-249.

Vasilescu, M. (2019). Leadership styles and theories in an effective management activity. Economy Series, 4(8), 47-52.