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.