When British Petroleum’s (BP’s) #DeepwaterHorizondrillingrig caught fire and sank off the coast of Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico on the 22nd of April, 2010, no one could envision the extent of environmental disaster that followed. By the time the engineers had temporarily capped the oil well on the 15th of July, it had released ~3.0 million to 8.7 million barrels of oil into the waters of the Gulf. To date BP has spent nearly $54bn towards the clean-up, penalties, and #environmentalandeconomicdamages of the oil spill.

Oil spills are long-lasting, they coat everything they touch and become an unwelcome part of every #ecosystem they permeate. When an oil slick from a spill reaches a beach, the oil coats every available surface, even a grain of sand. Plants and grasses absorb this oil and get damaged, making the area unsuitable for #inhabitationbywildlife.

When the oil stops floating, and eventually begins to permeate the #marineenvironment, it can have similar damaging effects, killing/contaminating fish and other #marineorganisms.

Here, we compare the how the Gulf oil spill stacks up against other #oilspills in terms of magnitude (it does not however compare damages). Since 1910, the world has seen nearly 17 oil spills, exceeding 30 million U.S. gallons.

The Deepwater Horizon’s spill was probably the second largest ever. California’s legendary oil spill from a blowout in Kern County in the year 1911 (~9 million barrels) might have been the #largestoilspillever. The purposeful dumping of oil by the Iraqi army into the Persian Gulf (two million to six million barrels) during the #OperationDesertStorm in 1991 might have been the third largest oil spill ever.

Ten of the 17 largest spills had been caused due to #shipgroundings, collisions or #explosions, 4 were caused due to #oilderrickorplatformdisasters, 2 were caused due to #pipelineleaks, and 1 was a purposeful release (Iraq).

Majority of the worst oil spills tend to be restricted to two types of locations: (a) #petroleumsourceareas, which are also associated with explosions, blowouts, and #transshippingaccidents (these include the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico), and (b) #internationaloiltraderoutes, these areas are highly prone to #shipcollisions and breakups (these include the North Atlantic, Europe, East Asia, and the Cape of Good Hope).

The remaining spills can be attributed to aging/failed equipment, #naturalcalamities (hurricanes and floods), or plain #humanerror (#ExxonValdez).

The US has sustained 47 oil spills (documented ones), the largest for any country. This high #incidenceofoilspills is directly associated with the country’s high #oilconsumption. The U.S. consumes nearly one fourth of the world’s oil. This high consumption rate requires huge amounts of oil to be handled and transferred on a daily basis, thereby enhancing the chances of probable spills. Louisiana (14), California (8), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (3), and Alaska (3) have all sustained significant oil spills due to large transfers of petroleum between ships and pipelines.

The #Deepwaterdisaster was a wake-up call for the #petroleumindustry as well as the government agencies that oversee the petroleum industry. Lessons learned from this spill are helping in the development and deployment of more safeguards and new technologies.

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