Oil Spills

Famous Oil Spills of History


Oil is a matter of controversy as well as a vital commodity for all countries. Without fossil fuel, lives would get miserable resulting in massive levels of unemployment and inflation. Ever since oil had become a vital commodity, big oil shipment tankers have been used to transport it via sea to different parts of the world. However this transportation is never without big concerns and risks of getting oil spilled over causing high levels of damage to the natural habitat. Here, we list down the top 8 most notable oil spills ever throughout the history having massive negative impact on the surrounding environment, directly & indirectly. Every time there had been an oil spill, it always resulted in immediate and long term devastating effects taking many years, sometimes even decades to repair. The following oil spills are recorded in descending order starting form the largest oil spill and going to the least one:

Kuwait Oil fires

The Kuwait Oil fires were caused in retaliation by Iraqi military forces, in 1991 after conquering Kuwait. An overwhelming number of 700 oil wells were set on fire that started in January and ended in November of 1991. In efforts to get control over the crisis, fire extinguishing teams were sent in, not knowing that it would just worsen the situation due to danger of land mines explosions set nearby oil wells. It had been estimated that an average of 6 million barrels of oil was burnt each day. Roughly 1,500 million barrels of oil was reported to be destroyed during the 8 months of fire from these 700 wells. Fears of rising Global Warming and heavy acidic rains were anticipated by the World Climate Conference held in Geneva same year in November. The fires caused severe degradation in air quality leading to extreme respiratory problems amongst Kuwaiti citizens.

Lakeview Gusher, Kern County, California, USA

Perhaps it is regarded as one of the longest running out of control oil spill continuing for 18 months from March 1910 to September 1911 and resulting in 9 million barrels of oil loss. Main cause of oil spill was blamed for a wellhead blowout due to failures of pressure control machinery. This took place because in the early twentieth century, there was lack of highly sophisticated technology to pressurize oil wells under control. Environmental impact had been noticed causing severe damage to the Lake, the wildlife and the marine life.

Arabian Gulf War Oil Spill

Regarded as the 3rd largest oil spill in the history, the Arabian Gulf War oil spill took place as a result of Iraqi military forces opening up and dumping their oil reserves into the Persian Gulf as a possible hindrance to the incoming US Marines. The oil was set ablaze by fire from American military aircrafts striking two oil tankers near the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait. Since this oil spill was on the Persian Gulf, it caused extensive damage to the marine life especially to the areas enclosing Iraq & Kuwait. The oil layers reached a size of 100 miles by 42 miles, having 5 inches thickness.

Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, USA

Perhaps the most recent and the 4th largest ever recorded oil spill in the world took place from 20th April 2010 till 15th July, 2010 resulting in a loss of nearly 5 million barrels of oil. It is also cited as the BP oil spill, since the main oil exploration company involved in oil extraction and drilling was British Petroleum. The oil spill took place as a result of oil gusher in a well deep inside the Gulf of Mexico causing the worst ever damage to Marine life. Immediate result was 11 casualties of engineers and technicians on-site and 17 injuries. The oil spill caused significant damage to the tourism and fishing industries. 4,200 square miles of Gulf was closed after noticing tar balls in fishers' nets. BP witnessed a significant drop in its stock price getting severe blow to its good will and reputation. It caused a whopping $3.12 billion expenses to BP so far in terms of federal costs, claims & grants paid to the Gulf States, and relief efforts.

Ixtoc I oil spill Gulf of Mexico, Mexico

Mexico operated Oil Company Pemex was given the license of oil extraction from the Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico. The oil well blew out during the drilling process. It resulted due to the loss of drilling mud circulation. An estimated 3 million barrels of oil was lost from 3rd June 1979 till 23rd march 1980.

Atlantic Empress oil spill, Trinidad & Tobago

Two ships named Atlantic Empress, and Aegean Captain collided on 19th July 1979 resulting in a huge loss of 2.1 million barrels of oil. The Atlantic Empress sank on 3rd August in deep waters. Fortunately oil never reached the shores of nearby states.

Amoco Cadiz, France & UK

On 16th March 1978, Amoco Cadiz hit the Portsall Rocks, 3 miles off the coast of Britain due to mechanical failure of the tanker. The ship encountered tropical thunderstorm resulting in 1.6 million barrels of oil to be spilled on sea causing pollution to 200 miles of Britain's seashore. The ship got completely wrecked due to bad climatic conditions. Merely 20,000 tons of oil got recovered from the collected 100,000 tons during the recovery process.

Exxon Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA

On 24th march 1989, an oil tanker named Exxon Valdez collided with Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef resulting in an oil spill of nearly 10.8 million gallons (260,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil). It severely affected the wildlife as well as the company itself. The oil spill of 10.8 million gallons out of the total 53 million capacity took place in an attempt to avoid collision with ice. In the US history, it can be considered amongst the largest oil spills ever. The jury penalized Exxon for $5.287 billion in total damages done to the environment that were equal to single year profit of Exxon. In order to pay off huge debt, the company took credit from JP Morgan. Afterwards, Exxon successfully reduced the cost to $2.5 billion with 3 different appeals to the jury.

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