Coping with Large Oil Spills

Fabius Maximus | May 17, 2010

This blog post,  About the long term effect of giant oil spills, says that past large oil spill have had few long-term effects. It provides a bit of  history about  oil spills saying, “Hundreds of tankers and oilers were sunk during WWII — 333 identified in the Pacific.  Many burned or spilled their oil when sunk.  Many remain on the seabed still loaded with crude oil or oil products.”

Also discussed is IXTOC I, a well blowout that  occured in 1979,  which spilled between 139 to 428 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The blog provides links  to several documents about  IXTOC I  including a 1990 OTA background paper, Coping with an Oiled Sea, which lists  it as the largest oil spill since 1967.

OTA had been asked to study the issue in response to the 1989 Exon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  In the foreword of the 1990 paper OTA Director, John H. Gibbons, says:

Cleaning up a discharge of millions of gallons of oil at sea under even moderate environmental conditions is an extraordinary problem. Current national capabilities to respond effectively to such an accident are marginal at best. OTA’s analysis shows that improvements could be made, and that those offering the greatest benefits would not require technological breakthroughs –just good engineering design and testing, skilled maintenance and training, timely access to and availability of the most appropriate and substantial systems, and the means to make rapid, informed decisions. One must understand, however, that even the best national response system will have inherent practical limitations that will hinder spill response efforts for catastrophic events– sometimes to a major extent. For that reason it is important to pay at least equal attention to preventive measures as to response systems. In this area, the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth many, many pounds of cure.