5 of the Worst Oil Spills in History

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-26 22:58

Oil spills are one of the worst things that can impact our seas and oceans. Oil is quite light, so it can spread quickly throughout the surface of the water. Spills are therefore difficult to contain and clean up.

Of course, these spills have a massive impact on birds and marine life. Birds and otters, for example, are prone to hypothermia if their feathers and coats get covered with oil. Fish, meanwhile, might think that the floating oil slick is food.

There have been numerous oil spills in over the past two centuries. While each can severely impact the environment, the spills on this list are among the worst in human history.

Nowruz Oil Field Spill

1983 was a bad year for the Persian Gulf in terms of oil spills. On February 10, 1983, an oil tanker crashed into the field platform in the Nowruz oil field. The platform tilted over due to the collision, and corrosion caused the riser to collapse. The collision damaged the oil field, causing the spillage of 80 million gallons of crude oil.

The oil spill then went on for seven months after the collision. About 1,500 barrels of oil spilled out into the sea every day for each of those months.

The Atlantic Empress Explosion

Photo by Hein Hinrichs

On July 19, 1979, the oil tanker SS Atlantic Empress crashed into another tanker, the Aegean Captain, in the Caribbean Sea. At the time of the collision, there was heavy rain and it was foggy as well. Visibility was low, so the two tankers weren't aware of their proximity to each other until it was too late.

Soon after the tankers collided, large fires sparked in both vessels. The crew had to abandon ship, but the Empress lost 26 crew members wile the Captain lost one. The collision spilled 88.3 million gallons of crude oil.


IXTOC I was a two-mile deep exploratory well located in the Bahia de Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. On June 3, 1979, pressure buildup caused an explosion in the well. The platform caught fire from the explosion and collapsed into the wellhead. This severely hindered the efforts to contain the effects of the explosion.

Oil from the well spilled into the sea at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels per day for about ten months before the well was finally capped. 140 million gallons of oil covered an area of 1100 square miles.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Just a week ago, scientists found that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused $1.7 billion worth of damage on natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of the largest oil spills in the world and the largest in US history.

The Deepwater Horizon was a drilling rig that exploded on April 10, 2010. Methane gas rose from the well into the drilling rig, where it ignited. After the explosion, oil continuously flowed out of the well for 85 days and covered 572 miles of shoreline with oil slick.

Gulf War Oil Spill

One of the largest spills to date occurred in Kuwait during the Gulf War. On January 19, 1991, Iraqi forces deliberately opened oil valves and set fire to oil wells to slow the advance of Coalition forces. The political motives behind this attack were complicated, but the point is that there was much destruction in this region due to the oil spill.

The incident released up to 336 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf waters. The spill produced a four-inch thick oil slick that covered over an area of over 4,000 square kilometers.

Will Oil Spills Ever End?

Aside from the destruction of natural resources and the impact on wildlife, these oil spills also caused loss of human life. In the Deepwater Horizon disaster, for example, 11 oil rig workers were never found and have been presumed dead.

Cleaning efforts are also a long and complicated process. Oil spills cause a lot of long-term environmental problems and can lead to the deaths of several species of wildlife. Perhaps, with the advent and rising popularity of clean renewable energy, these spills may soon be a memory of the recent past.

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