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Oil Pollution

History of Oil Pollution

Oil usage around the world is approximately 300 billion gallons per day. It is used in many ways such as fuel, manufacture of plastics and medicines and electricity.

The types of spills that are most often seen in the media are accidental spills from tankers, for example the hugely publicized Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 which caused approximately 11 million gallons (37,000 tonnes) of oil to spill into the sea. This is about the same amount as 125 Olympic sized swimming pools. This spill however was small in comparison to the less well known tragedy of the Ixtoc I in Mexico which discharged 428 million gallons which would be the equivalent to almost 4,900 Olympic pools.

Disasters of this type however only account for about 20% of the oil discharged into the ocean each year with the balance mainly being routine oil tanker operations such as emptying ballast tanks, or general oil usage that ends up down the drain.

In an attempt to reduce the impact on the environment, the oil needs to be removed from the animals and coast. This can cost billions of dollars. In the case of the Exxon Valdez disaster, the cost of the clean is estimated at 2.1 billion US dollars (BBC November 2002).

The graph below shows the volume of oil spills recorded from 1970 to 2002, and highlights where the major spills have affected statistics.

In 1967, the Torrey Canyon grounded off the Cornish coast and the resulting oil pollution and chemical used in the clean up is estimated to have killed up to 75,000 sea birds (source Wildlife Trust). By comparison, a smaller spill (15,000 tonnes) in December 1999 from the Erika off the French Brittany coast is thought to have killed 150,000 sea birds.

Date Oil Spill Location Volume in tonnes
1967Torrey Canyon, groundingEngland108,100 - 116,900
1972Sea Star, collision/fireGulf of Oman106,900
1978Amoco Cadiz, groundingFrance203,000 - 230,000
1979Atlantic Empress, fireBarbados125,700
1979Aegean Captain, Atlantic EmpressTobago151,100
1979-1980Ixtoc I, well blow-outMexico421,000 - 1,296,000
1980Irenes Serenade, fireGreece37,200 - 110,800
1980-1981D-103 Libya, well blow outLibya127,000
1983Nowruz Oil Field, well blow outPersian Gulf242,000 - 560,000
1983Castillo de Bellver, broke/fireSouth Africa151,000 - 242,000
1988Storage TankThe Monongahela River3,800,000
1989 MarchExxon Valdez, groundedPrince William Sound, Alaska38,800
1991 JanuaryIraq, Gulf War, deliberate releasePersian Gulf1,400,000
1991 AprilHavenGenoa, Italy50,000
1991 MayABT Summer, explosionAngola260,000
1992 DecemberAegean SeaLa Coruna, Spain80,000
1993Braer, groundedOff The Shetland Islands85,000
1996Sea EmpressOff SW Wales72,000
1999 DecemberErikaBrittany13,000
2000 JanuaryA ruptured pipelineGuanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil1,030
2001JessicaGalapagos Islands240,000

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