Major Oil Spills of the 20th and 21st century

In 1989 the Exxon Valdez American oil tanker crashed into the Bligh Reef, off the Coast of Bligh Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The tanker was supposed to turn south after they had reached a certain point, Busby Island, but because the ship didn’t turn fast enough, it collided with the reef. Due to how widespread the damage was, 1900km of coastline was polluted.

This pollution killed approximately 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 250 bald eagles, and potentially 22 killer whales. 2.1 billion of the 3.5 billion the owner of the Exxon Valdez paid was meant to go to the cleanup operation. Interestingly enough, according the NOAA, majority of the damage came from the cleanup process, rather than the oil spill itself, most specifically a method referred to as “Pressure Washing”.

Perhaps the only reason they continued the cleanup process was the mass amounts of media attention (in the public’s opinion, it was the best way to save most of the animals). Many of the beaches that were affected by the oil spill that were not cleaned recovered on their own in about eighteen months. Areas that were affected by the oil spill that were cleaned didn’t recover for the next three to four years.

In January of 1991, at the beginning of the Gulf War, the Iraqi forces dumped oil from several tankers and opened the valves of an offshore terminal creating a major oil spill in addition to setting fires to 650 oil wells in Kuwait. This became the largest oil spill in human history, it did considerable damage to the environment. The polluted water killed 20,000 seabirds and caused severe damage to the local marine flora. The oil well fires caused large amounts of air pollution that affected the local population’s health for several years.

There was no shoreline cleanup, all the oil that was spilled penetrated into the mud of the tidal flats. “There’s no way to get it out now. So it has had long term impact” – Dr. Jacqueline Michel, US Geochemist. “Several coastal areas even in 2001 still show significant oil impact and in some places no recovery at all” – Dr. Hans Jorg, German geographer.

On December 14 2002, The Norwegian ship Tricolor collided with the Bahama container ship in the French channel. The accident was caused by fog and “human errors”. The Tricolor sustained even more damage when the Nicola collided with it and 2,200 tons of oil leaked from the wreck. In January 2003 the oil tanker Vicky collided with the Tricolor, causing some oil from the Vicky to flow into sea and reach French and Belgium shores. Fortunately damages were limited and the Tricolor did not leak any oil.

At the end of January extreme weather caused Berger Smit to collide with the Tricolor wreck, which had started to leak oil. It was discovered that at least 1,000 tons of oil had leaked into the Channel. The oil reached France and Belgium, causing the deaths of thousands of seabirds. After this last collision the French government ordered the remaining wreckage to be removed to prevent further environmental damage. Eventually, the ship was broken into nine small pieces, heaved from the water and carried away.