Oil spillage

Other Names:
Oil tanker disasters
Offshore oil disasters
Oil spills

Every year 1.2 billion tonnes of oil cross the seas in tankers. Since navigation is a human endeavour, there will always be human error. Oil spills are an utterly predictable cost of doing business, but is unpredictable in its social and environmental impact. Tourism and recreational activities are badly affected after an oil spill. Reduced catches of commercially exploited fish and shellfish are often reported after an oil spill. Industries that rely on seawater for their normal operation (eg. power stations and desalination plants) can be seriously disrupted, as may be other coastal industries such as shipyards and harbours.


Between 1980 and 1990 there were 435 recorded oil spills of over 50 barrels. The average amount of oil spilled annually from tankers is now approaching 1.5 million tons. The wreck of the Amoco Cadiz supertanker in March 1978 spilled over 1.5 million barrels of crude oil and fouled more than 160 kilometres of shoreline. This ruined the annual harvest of oysters, lobsters, fish and seaweed, and caused some one million or more tourists to avoid the Brittany coast. Damages of $140 million were set in 1988, $105 million of which was directed to the French national government, local governments and businesses. In 1988 the explosion and subsequent burning of the Piper Alpha drilling platform in the North Sea killed 170 people. More than 170,000 gallons of petroleum fuels escaped the Bahia Paraiso, an Argentine Navy supply ship, after it ran aground in January 1989 threatening wildlife in the Bismarck Strait of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Exxon Valdez ran aground in March of 1989 spilling 40 million litres of oil into Prince William Sound, one of the most bountiful marine ecosystems in the world, spreading over 3,000 square km of water and fouling 1,600 km of shoreline.

Texaco dumped some 4.3 million gallons per day of toxic oil waste water over a period of 20 years previous to 1999, in the Ecuadorean rainforest. The equivalent of three Exxon Valdez oil disasters. It is claimed that Texaco left behind 300 open waste pits contaminated with heavy metals and carcinogenic hydrocarbon compounds. It is estimated that Texaco saved $3 to $4 per barrel – close to $6 billion over 20 years in additional profits - by dumping the waste water rather than pumping it back beneath the earth's surface. Oil spills along the company's Trans-Ecuadorean Pipeline totaled an estimated 16.8 million gallons. Damages caused by Texaco's practices are estimated to be in excess of $1 billion.

On the 17/5/1999, thousands of barrels of oil spilled into the Peruvian Amazon rainforest after heavy rains triggered a landslide which broke the country's largest oil pipeline. The landslide wiped out 13 feet (four meters) of the 530-mile (850-km) pipeline owned by the state oil company, Petro-Peru. It was reported that the spill dumped 12,500 barrels of oil in the ecologically sensitive area.

It is conservatively estimated that the Niger Delta experiences about 300 separate oil spillages every year. Occurring from old worn-out flowlines which traverse several kilometers of mangroves and swamps through which oil companies transport crude oil from the scattered oil fields to their oil export terminals.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below Water
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST