When the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded into flames, killing eleven workers, few predicted it would lead to America’s worst environmental disaster.
Two days after the blaze, the platform sunk. Its place off the Louisiana coast now marked by an eight kilometer oil slick.
After the well’s blowout preventer failed, the fingers of blame began to point. None of the companies involved in the operation admitted responsibility for the accident, which sparked the disaster.
The White House pledged “every single available resource” for the clean-up operation and placed BP in charge of containing the spill.
As things rapidly deteriorated, Barack Obama’s handling of the catastrophe was constantly called into question.
Visits to the Gulf Coast and a ban on new off-shore drilling did little to ease a clamour for heads to roll.
But America’s favourite fall guy turned out to be BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward.
His repeated gaffes and unease before the cameras fail to generally inspire confidence that the firm was doing everything possible to deal with the crisis and its consequences.
The first heavy oil hit Louisiana’s fragile marshlands a month after the explosion. Part of the slick then entered a powerful current, that carried it on to the Florida Keys and beyond.
An complicated attempt to place a containment dome over the spewing well had spectacularly failed, leaving BP with no option other than to begin drilling a relief well while it pursued other capping procedures.
Some experts now say the scale of the damage was exaggerated amid reports there’s no oil on the surface left to scoop up.
But tests show tar balls washed up on the Texas coast are from the spill, meaning every US Gulf state has now been soiled and the effects of the disaster may not be clear for years.