Ten of The Worlds Most Catastrophic Oil Spills Of All Time

Oil spills, especially in large water bodies, have devastating effects that take decades, even centuries, to reverse. The BP Oil deepwater oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is still a climatic disaster today despite the US government and the company spending $65 Billion to mitigate the damage. We, however, tend to forget similar disasters that happened in the 20th century, most f which never got as much media coverage as the BP disaster. These ten combine into the worst disasters related to oil drilling and shipping across the world that could have acted as a warning going into the 21st century.


 

The Lakeview Gusher oil spill
The Lakeview Gusher oil spill

The Lakeview Gusher

More than 378 million gallons of oil leaked when the Lakeview gusher blew and soaked the soils of Kern County, California. The accidental spill continued for 18 months as oil workers and volunteers tried to stop it without success. The spill could have been prevented had the foreman leading the drilling crew heeded orders from the union oil headquarters. The team had been ordered to abandon drilling activities at the site after a long period of fruitless drilling, but they continued. In March 1910, upon drilling 2200 feet down, an oil reservoir was tapped gushing oil through an eruption that blew the derrick. The explosion so huge and dangerous that no one would dare go near to try and cap it. 18 months later, the oil spill was stopped. Though the area is still soaked with oil over a century later.

BP’s deepwater horizon oil spill
BP’s deepwater horizon oil spill

BP’s deepwater horizon spill

On April 20, 2010, the largest marine oil spill in history claimed 11 lives in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. Natural gas blasted through a concrete core cemented on the well to seal it for future use. The concrete mixture was only composed of nitrogen, used to accelerate curing, making it too weak to withstand the pressure. The gas rose through the rig and ignited, causing a major explosion that brought it down.

Countless efforts were made to stop the natural gas leakage from the well. In September, the leak was successfully stopped by pumping cement through a relief well intersecting the original well to bock off the leakage. It is still considered the most catastrophic oil spill of all time because of the environmental disaster it caused in the Gulf. Countless fish, plants and birds died while their breeding zones remain too poisonous to support life. A decade of clean up with $65 Billion hasn’t changed the situation much.

Kolva River oil spill
Kolva River oil spill

Kolva River Spill

The Kolva River has had two oil spills, the first one in 1983 and the second one in 1994. The latter had more adverse effects. The spill was caused by corrosion of the underlying pipeline that had been leaking for eight months. The dyke that was constructed to control the leakage was washed by heavy rain, causing a major spill of 2 million barrels of oil into the Kolva River. That was only a small percentage of what had been leaking during the eight months. The Komineft firm, which had earned a reputation for accidents caused by poor maintenance, was held accountable for the incident. The firm was unable to pay the $600 000 fine imposed on it due to its financial problems hence much of the damage and poisoning of water sources went untreated.

MT Haven oil spill
MT Haven oil spill

MT Haven

The Haven, a crude oil carrier from Iran, exploded in April 1991 while offloading Oil off the coast of Genoa, Italy. An electric spark ignited the oil and set the vessel on fire, breaking it into three sections that sank. Nearly half of the oil, 10,000 tonnes, was lost to the fire, not forgetting the six crew members who died in the explosion. After about 70 hours of burning, the last part of the ship sank into the Mediterranean Sea, extinguishing the fire. The spill spread 25miles across the French and Italian coastline despite most of it burning in the fire. The pollution that lasted for 12 years with irreversible damage to marine life and coastal tourist attraction.

Nowruz oil field oil spill
Nowruz oil field oil spill

Nowruz oil field spills

The Nowruz oil field spills were acts of war by the Iraqi against Iran. In February 1983, a tanker collided with the platform, which collapsed, causing a spill that was made catastrophic by the waves. Efforts to close the well was impeded by the war in the region. Before it was capped, the well was hit by an Iraqi missile causing an explosion. 63,000 gallons of oil gushed from the well each day into the Persian Gulf till September before it was closed. 260,000 tonnes of oil and eleven men were lost in the operations. Only a small portion of the oil was recovered, while most of it sank to the bottom of the ocean. Another spill occurred in March when the Iraqis attacked another nearby well that was capped two years later in 1985. The oil spills caused a lot of pollution that cost the government a fortune to clean up.

Persian Gulf war oil spill
Persian Gulf war oil spill

Persian Gulf war oil spill

It is still considered the worst oil spill in history. The intentional Persian Gulf oil spill was a war tactic by the Iranians to impede Americans from landing in Kuwait. The Iranians, released gallons of crude oil through the Sea Island pipeline into the Persian Gulf for three months. They dug trenches offshore and filled them with gallons of crude oil to prevent any landing. Upon their retreat, they set 732 wells on fire, burning at least 6 million barrels of Kuwaiti crude per day for months. A year later, most of the floating oil had been cleared from the water. However, oil continued to spill from the coast slowly. The cost of cleaning the gulf was quite hefty, with almost $540 million spent on cleaning the bay alone.

The Amoco Cadiz oil spill
The Amoco Cadiz oil spill

The Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill

On its way to Rotterdam from the Persian Gulf, the Amoco Cadiz experienced steering failure due to a storm while at sea. The tanker which belonging to Shell hit a rock in an attempt to avoid collision with another ship and split into two. 255 million litres of crude oil were spilt into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of France. Millions of litres of crude washed into the French beaches, sinking deep into the sand and causing the death diverse marine life. The clean-up involved pumping the oil and removal of contaminated residues. The incident was estimated to have created an estimated $250,000 damage to the tourism and fishing industry. The American company, Amoco International Oil, was sued by the French government. France was awarded $85 million despite presenting claims worth $ 468 million

Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill

Exxon Valdez oil spill

On March 23, 1989, Exxon Valdez left Alaska with 53 million gallons of crude oil on board. The ship struck the Bligh Reef at Prince William Sound in Alaska, tearing the hull and causing the escape of 11 gallons of oil into the water. Exxon company ran out of chemicals while intervening by spraying dispersants on the spill. Days later, a winter storm dispersed the oil, making it hard to salvage the situation. The spread of the oil was also blamed on the slow response of the rescue team. Half of the wildlife in Prince William sound waters died. The ship’s captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was charged with negligence after it was discovered that he was drunk and had delegated the duty during the time of the impact. Exxon also faced charges and appealed while its ship was repaired and sold to a Hong Kong company. In 2010 the ship collided with another cargo ship off the coast of China.

The Ixtoc 1 oil spill
The Ixtoc 1 oil spill

The Ixtoc 1 oil spill

On June 3, 1979, the Ixtoc 1 exploratory well, in Mexico, exploded and caught fire. The explosion was caused by the failure of the circulation of drilling mud in the well. Nearly 30 barrels of oil poured from the well into the Gulf of Mexico every day. The spill continued for 10 months until March 1980 when it was stopped by drilling two relief wells. The spill’s effect on fishing activities is still being felt by fishermen in Mexico to this day. The PEMEX company remained optimistic with hopes of rescuing the wells and making an economic breakthrough in the oil industry. Currently, Mexico is among the world’s top ten producers of oil. The negative effects of continuous oil pollution by its industries on marine life have been largely ignored by the Mexican Government.

Odyssey oil spill
Odyssey oil spill

Odyssey

On November 10, 1998, the Odyssey, loaded with 132,157 tonnes of crude oil, sank into the North Atlantic off the coast of Canada. An explosion split the tanker into two and causing it to sink. Reports say that the accident was caused by bad weather while at sea, leading to an oil spill of 43 million gallons. 27 crew members also died in the accident, which involved the English company Polembros Shipping Ltd. The Spill was far from the shore although the impact on marine life was still catastrophic.

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