Thursday, May 13, 2010

13 Biggest Oil Spills in History

While the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far from being over, here are some of the largest oil spills that ruined our world since the 1950's.
  • 1957: One of the first major oils spills occurred off the coast of Mexico when the Tampico Maru crashed and released 2.7 million gallons* of oil into the Mexican state of Baja California, Lower California.
  • 1967: The Torrey Canyon supertanker crashed on Pollard Rock off the coast of England. This lead to the spill of 500,000 barrels of crude oil into the North-East Atlantic Ocean and English Channel. The coasts of England, France and Spain were all affected.

  • 16th of March, 1978: The wreck of the Liberian supertanker Amoco Cadiz, caused the leak of 70 million gallons of crude oil on approximately 400 kilometers off the French coast of Finistère in Brittany. The damage on the coast and the wildlife were dramatic.

  • 3rd of June, 1979: Following the explosion of the Mexican oil well Ixtoc One, 140 million gallons of oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico, causing one of the largest oil spills in history. I took over nine months of hard labour to clean up the pollution. This is one of the largest spill in history not involving an oil tanker. The cause of the disaster are very similar to the one that happened in April 2010 in the same area, where oil is leaking directly from the oil reservoir under the sea bed.More than nine months of work are needed to stem the leak.One of the two largest oil spills in history occurred in 1979 which did not involved an oil tanker. The IXTOC 1 oil well, located in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico accidentally sank its drill into an underwater oil reservoir.

  • 24th of March, 1989: The US tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound/Bay in Alaska and led to one of the major oil disasters in the history of the USA. Approximately 38,800 tons of crude oil escaped from the wreck and 1,300 kilometers of coastline were polluted. More than 75% of local marine fauna died according to the University of Alaska.

  • January 1991: Following the invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, sabotage missions were conducted against tanks, tankers and offshore wells. Over one million tons of oil leaked into the Gulf in what would become one of the worst ecological disasters ever. Over 500 kilometers of coastline were polluted. That same year, another large spill equal in size occurred. The Iraqi army dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil from loading docks in Kuwait into the Persian Gulf. Part of the oil slick was set on fire by Iraqi soldiers.

  • 22nd of July, 1991: A Japanese fish-processing ship collided with a Chinese cargo ship off the coast of Washington, in the North-West of the United States. Over 100.000 gallons of oil poured into the Pacific Ocean. This followed another oil spill that occured on the previous day, the 21st of July, 1991 when the Greek tanker Kirki lost its bow off the coast of Western Australia.

  • August to October 1994 : Between 14,000 and 60,000 tons of oil leaked from a pipeline in the Siberian tundra and rivers, contaminating dozens of square kilometers in the province of Komi, up North of the Arctic Circle. Greenpeace estimates were as high as 280,000 tons of leaked oil.

  • 16th of February, 1996: The Liberian tanker Sea Empress, sank off the south coast of Wales, UK, liberating 147,000 tons of crude oil in the English Channel. Both France and UK were polluted.

  • 12th of December 1999 : The Maltese tanker Erika broke in half and sank off the coast of Brittany, in North-West France. Some 20,000 tons of oil escaped the wreckage, polluting 400 kilometers of coastline. Over 150,000 dead birds covered in oil were found on beaches..

  • 19th of November 2002 – Another Liberian oil tanker, the Prestige, sank off the coast of Galicia (North of Spain). More than 50,000 tons of oil escaped and polluted over 1,000 kilometers of the French, Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coasts.

  • 21st of August 2009: The Montara oil spill took place in the Timor Sea, North-West of Australia. It spilled 1.2 to 9 million of gallons in total over an area of 6,000 square kilometers. Although it is considered as one of Australia’s worst oil disasters, The media coverage of the disaster remained fairly small. The leak which started on 21st of August 2009, was only stopped on November 3rd, 2009. Some Indonesian are still receiving oil in 2010.

  • 3rd of April, 2010: The Sheng Neng 1, a Chinese ship transporting coal hit and stuck itself on a sandbar within the Great Barrier Reef marine park, 70 kilometres east of the Great Keppel Island. The incident caused damaged to the ship, leading to a leak of its fuel tanks. Read my two previous articles on the Sheng Neng and the damage it has done to the reefs.

  • 20th of April, 2010: The DeepWater Horizon, an offshore oil rig has collapsed off the coast of Lousiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster started off with a loud explosion followed by a major fire. The floating platform sank while three leaks were discovered. The amount of oil released in the wild is unknown but estimated to about 160,000 litres per day. Read my previous article

We are all responsible for these oil spills. With an increasing world population and an increasing consumption of food, manufactured goods, vehicles, etc, the more cargo ships and supertankers navigate our seas. This leads to an obvious increase in the risks of disasters and I doubt this will end anytime soon. Everytime such a disaster occurs, we tell ourselves it won't happen again and take what we think are good enough measures. It is time to rethink the way we transport fossile fuel and the way we drill in underwater oil reserves.

*1 barrel = 42 US gallons = 158.99 litres
Picture Torrey Canyon
Pictures of the Amoco Cadiz 01 | 02
Picture of the Ixtoc 1
Pictures of the Exxon Valdez Picture 01 | 02
Pictures of the Persian Gulf spill and Russian pipeline
Picture of the Sea Empress
Picture of the Montara
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