Thursday, September 9, 2010

History Indicates Gulf of Mexico Spill is Among World's Largest

A sign on a building along Louisiana Highway
1 (LA 1) in Lafourche, La. (Photo by Nicholas

Ten of the world's largest oil spills: the Deepwater Horizon now has a spot on the list

By Nicholas Moroni

Recently, Live Science, Foreign Policy, (The History Channel's Web site), and scores of other publications have put out articles listing the worst oil spills in the history of the world. At the time these articles appeared, the gushing Macondo well - which leaked over 200 million gallons of oil - in the Gulf of Mexico was not comparable to some of the catastrophic spills cited.

  • Gulf War - Leaving Kuwait on January 21, 1991, Iraqi forces released valves and pipelines from oil tankers as they retreated and spilled between 150 million and 450 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf.
  • Ixtoc 1 Spill - This occurred in the wee hours of June 3, 1979, when a flaming mixture of oil and gas shut up a drilling well located off the coast of Cidudad del Carmen, Mexico, in the Gulf of Mexico. All the workers aboard the rig were able to evacuate safely, but the explosion leaked close to 140 million barrels of oil; and, ironically, what was once a tiny shrimping town is now a haven for oil exploration.
  • Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain Collision - These two carriers, which happened to be brimming with oil, collided 10 miles off the coast of Trinidad and Tabago in the midst of a tropical storm on July 19, 1979. Both ships caught fire and 26 crewmembers perished. Around 90 million gallons of oil was spilled.
  • Fergana Valley - A total of 88 million gallons of oil were spilled into this dense industrial region of eastern Uzbekistan in March 1992. This remains the world's largest inland spill. Reports surrounding the cause of the incident appear to be scarce.
  • Nowruz Platform - During the Iran/Iraq war, an Irani oil tanker collided with a platform in the Persian Gulf on February 10, 1983. The crash caused the platform to tilt at a 45-degree angle and uncap a well, ultimately spilling 1,500 barrels of oil into the gulf daily until it was capped in September of that year. Iraqi forces then attacked the platform when workers were attempting the capping, and oil on the deck resulted in a fire which claimed 11 lives. A nearby platform was then ambushed by Iraqi helicopters, which resulted in an additional spill. When workers finally capped this well in March 1985, nine men died in the process. A total of 80 million gallons leaked.
  • ABT Summer - This Liberian tanker held 260,000 tons of crude and exploded off the coast of Angola on May 28, 1991, killing five crew members.
  • Castillo de Beliver - On August 6, 1983, a fire broke out on board this Spanish tanker as it was sailing in waters along the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. An explosion occurred, and 79 million gallons of oil leaked into the water.
  • Amoco Cadiz - This tanker wreck and the resulting spill of 69 million gallons of oil brought the world its first images of oil-slicked birds. The crash occurred on March 16, 1978 off the coast of Portsall, France, and 240 miles of the Brittany coast suffered extensive damage.
  • M/T Haven - Six crew members died and 45 million gallons of oil spilled into the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France when this very large crude container (VLCC) exploded off the coast of Genoa, Italy on April 11, 1991.
  • Odyssey - This American drilling-rig blew up off the coast of Novia Scotia in November 1988. The accident caused one death and 42 million gallons of oil leaked.
To date, it is surmised that over 200 millions gallons of oil were spilled from the Macondo well, granting it a second-place ranking among the world's largest oil spills.

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