The Ten Biggest Oil Spills in History

Oil Well Explosion

The Ten Biggest Oil Spills in History

Here at Dragon Sorb, we are always chatting about happy things like environmental disasters, accidents in the work place, the detrimental effects of traditional clean-up methods on marine wildlife. Aaah, how we laugh. Anyway, a couple of days ago, we were talking about oil spills which turned into a heated discussion about the biggest oil spills in history. By the way, I went for Deepwater Horizon. Read on to find out the facts about the biggest oil spills in history, and to see if I was right.

A couple of things before we start. While doing the research, I discovered that the statistics are surprisingly inconsistent. Although unscientific, I have just split the difference if there are big discrepancies in the oil spills data.

1. Lakeview Gusher
California,  1909 – 1,200,000 tonnes

This is by far the largest of all oil spills in history. One of the main reasons so much oil was spilt was that it took 18 months for the well to be brought under control, partly because it was difficult to find the manpower needed, even though workers were paid $5 a day – $125 in today’s money.

2. Gulf War
Persian Gulf, 1991 – 1,000,000 tonnes

As Saddam Hussein’s troops withdrew they destroyed tankers and oil terminals in Kuwait, spilling millions of barrels of oil. The images of destroyed oil wells on fire will forever remain in people’s memories. Although it would be reasonable to assume that massive environmental problems occurred, experts have stated that little long-term damage resulted.

3. Deepwater Horizon
Gulf of Mexico, 2010 – 660,000 tonnes

And here it is; ‘only’ third on the list. The Deepwater Horizon spill was a bit of a disaster (pardon the pun) from beginning to end; taking 87 days before the well was eventually capped, with the fault probably being defective cement due to alleged cost-cutting. BP was found primarily responsible because it wasn’t an American company and it had lots of money.

4. IXTOC 1:
Mexico, 1979 – 445,000 tonnes

The exploratory well Ixtoc I, situated in the Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, blew out on June 3, 1979. The well was brought under control in March, 1980.

5. Atlantic Express
Tobago, 1979 – 280,000 tonnes

This must be one of the unluckiest collisions in history as it involved two supertankers, the Aegean Captain and the Atlantic Express, both of which were full! The resulting fire on the Aegean Captain was brought under control and towed to Curacao. The other tanker, the Atlantic Express, was towed out to sea where it eventually exploded.

6. Fergana Valley
Uzbekistan, 1992 – 275,000 tonnes

Little is known of this spill except the amount of oil spilt. At the time of the spill itself, there was almost no media attention, even though it was the largest inland oil spill in modern history.

7. Nowruz Oil Field
Iran, 1983 – 255,000 tonnes

The second on the list from the Persian Gulf region and the second during time of war. However, the damage was actually caused by an oil tanker hitting the oil field platform, which then damaged the well underneath. The reason so much oil was spilt was that it took 7 months to fix it because of the turmoil in the region.

8. ABT Summer
Off the coast of Angola, 1991 – 255,000 tonnes

On 28th May the tanker ABT SUMMER, which was carrying 255,000 tonnes of Iranian heavy crude oil, experienced an explosion and fire about 900 miles off the coast of Angola. The explosion was never explained.

9. Castillo de Bellver
Off the coast of South Africa, 1983 – 250,000 tonnes

Another unexplained fire and explosion, and off the African coast again. Although much closer to the shore than the ABT Summer was, due to prevailing conditions, there was little to no effect on the environment. The Castillo de Bellver broke in two. The stern section sank of its own accord. The bow was towed further offshore and sank after a controlled explosion.

10. Amoco Cadiz
Brittany, 1978 – 220,000 tonnes

This one I remember well as my family were moving to Guernsey the following year. The accident happened after the Amoco Cadiz’s steering failed during a heavy storm. The resulting environmental damage was substantial, with more marine animals being killed  than in any other spill before.

Sadly, with our over-reliance on fossil fuels, these types of accidents are unlikely to stop any time soon. Happily, with Dragon Sorb, there will always be a solution to your oil spill needs.