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5 Biggest Oil Spills In History

Posted: Jul 17, 2018 8:33:00 AM

The largest spills in history may be incidents you’ve never heard of. Here’s a quick look at the top five and the spill response efforts used in each:

  1. Gulf War Oil Spill
    Date: January 1991
    Location: Persian Gulf (Kuwait)
    Spillage: Estimates range from 240-520 million gallons

The biggest oil spill in history was deliberately caused by Iraqi soldiers during the Gulf War. As the Iraqis retreated from Kuwait, they opened oil well and pipeline valves in an attempt to block American forces from advancing. The oil pouring into the Gulf created a 4-inch thick oil slick that spread across 4,000 square miles—to put the size in perspective, that’s roughly the size of Lebanon.

Coalition forces were able to seal some open valves with smart bombs, but most containment efforts did not occur until after the war ended, making it difficult to estimate the full scale of the spill. This is unique point in history when a natural resource, and specifically pollution, was used as a war tactic.

  1. BP Deepwater Horizon
    Date: April 2010
    Location: Gulf of Mexico
    Spillage: ~206-210 million gallons

An oil well explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon is the largest accidental spill in history. Eleven people were killed and it took three months to cap the well. Skimmers, barricades, and nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants were used in the intensive containment efforts. An estimated 2.5 million gallons of oil escaped into the Gulf per day, contaminating 572 miles of shoreline and causing extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, as well as fishing and tourism industries.

  1. Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill
    Date: June 1979
    Location: Bay of Campeche (Mexico)
    Spillage: 140 million gallons

The third largest spill in history was another oil well explosion. The petroleum company Pemex’s Ixtoc 1 rig exploded and then collapsed, gushing 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil into the Bay of Campeche for 10 months. The resulting oil slick extended to 1100 square miles. The damaged well was finally capped using mud, steel, iron, and lead balls.

  1. Atlantic Empress Oil Spill
    Date: July 1979
    Location: Trinidad and Tobago
    Spillage: 90 million gallons

In the midst of a tropical storm, two large supertankers—the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain—collided off the coast of Tobago in the Caribbean Sea and killed 26 crew members. Both vessels caught fire and began to leak crude oil after the collision.

The spill response efforts included firefighting and the use of dispersants.The fire on the Aegean Captain was contained, but the Atlantic Empress remained ablaze and was towed out to sea where another explosion eventually sank the vessel about one month after the initial collision. About 287,000 tons of oil was spilled from the Atlantic Empress alone, making this the largest ship-source spill ever recorded and one of the few times in history when two tankers have collided.

  1. Fergana Valley Oil Spill
    When: March 1992
    Where: Uzbekistan
    Amount spilled: 88 million gallons

Fergana Valley, an area known for oil refining, was the site the largest land-based oil spill in history. A well blowout spewed about 88 million gallons of oil into the valley, where it caught fire and burned for two months. The oil was absorbed into the ground, impeding spill cleanup efforts.

Need to make sure you’re protected from the damaging effects of a spill incident? Safe Harbor offers the largest spill response network in the industry, ensuring the fastest response possible during those crucial first moments of an event. We also offer damage mitigation, cleanup, and cost accounting to cover you from further damage or liability after a spill occurs. Contact us to learn more.

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