Before the oil spill caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico there have been a large number of major oil spills. Most of these serious spills have been caused by oil tanker accidents.
Summarized below are several of the more notable oil spills. Each was considered a major accident at the time and was entirely different from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
|The Argo Merchant ran aground on Fishing Rip (Nantucket Shoals), 29 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in high winds and ten foot seas. On December 21, the ship broke apart and spilled its entire cargo of 7.7 million gallons of No. 6 fuel oil. Image by NOAA.
Argo Merchant Oil Spill
December 16, 1976
29 miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
At approximately 0600 on December 15, 1976, the Liberian tanker Argo Merchant went aground on Fishing Rip (Nantucket Shoals), 29 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in high winds and ten foot seas. The vessel was carrying approximately 183,000 barrels of No. 6 Fuel Oil (80%) and cutter stock (20%). The master of the Argo Merchant requested permission to dump cargo in an effort to control draft and re-float the vessel. Permission was denied and attempts to lighter and re-float the vessel using emergency pumps and an Air Deliverable Anti-Pollution Transfer System (ADAPTS) were unsuccessful.
The following day the weather worsened and the crew of the Argo Merchant was evacuated. On December 17 the vessel began to pivot clockwise and buckle. On December 21 the vessel broke in two aft of the king post, spilling approximately 36,000 barrels of cargo. The bow section split forward of the bridge and capsized on December 22, resulting in the loss of the remaining cargo. The bow section floated 400-500 yards to the southeast and was eventually sunk by the USCG while the stern section remained aground.
Prevailing currents carried the spilled oil away from the shorelines and beaches of Nantucket. Weather conditions and uncharted depths surrounding the wreck made salvage attempts difficult. USCG district 1.
|On August 10, 1993, three ships collided in Tampa Bay, Florida: the Bouchard B155 barge, the freighter Balsa 37, and the barge Ocean 255. The Bouchard B155 spilled an estimated 336,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil into Tampa Bay. Image by NOAA.
Barge Bouchard 155 Oil Spill
August 10, 1993
Tampa Bay, Florida
On August 10, 1993, at approximately 0545, the freighter Balsa 37, the barge Ocean 255, and the barge Bouchard 155 collided in the shipping channel west of the Skyway Sunshine Bridge south of Mullet Key in Tampa Bay, FL. MSO Tampa closed the port to vessel traffic.
This collision caused three separate emergencies: 1) the Balsa 37, which was carrying a cargo of phosphate rock, was severely damaged on the starboard side, was listing at an increasing rate, and was in danger of capsizing in the channel; 2) the Ocean 255, which was loaded with jet fuel, gasoline, and a small amount of diesel fuel was burning out of control just south of Mullet Key; and 3) the Bouchard 155 was holed at the port bow spilling approximately 8,000 barrels of #6 fuel oil into Tampa Bay.
Stabilizing the vessels was the first priority of responders. By 2200 the Ocean 255 barge fire was extinguished and the GST was conducting cooling procedures and maintaining a fire watch. Lightering operations were well underway on the Bouchard 155 barge in preparation for moving it to dockage in the Port of Tampa where it would be cleaned before dry docking. The Balsa 37 was intentionally grounded outside the shipping channel to prevent it from capsizing and to open the channel for traffic while repairs and stability evaluations were conducted.
August 10 overflight observations showed a three- to six-meter wide band of oil along the beaches. By the next day, this band appeared to be about half its original width. Systematic shoreline surveys were conducted and oil was found buried by two to eight inches of clean sand deposited during high tide. Cleanup crews focused on manually removing the band of surface oil high on the beach.
A plan was developed to remove the subsurface oil without generating large volumes of sediment for handling, disposal, and replacement. The plan called for mechanical removal of the heavy buried layers, manual removal of moderately oiled sediments, and mechanically pushing stained sand onto the lower part of the beach for surf washing. Pompoms were strung along the surf zone to collect any oil refloated during the surf washing.
By August 11 the status of the vessels had improved substantially. The response focus began to change from emergency issues to skimming operations, protection strategies, forecasts, and planning. Meanwhile, cleanup crews were contending with very thick oil that had been deposited around some mangrove islands. Tarmats formed when sediment was mixed with oil along the shallow flats surrounding the islands. Large thick mats coated mangrove roots, oyster and seagrass beds, and tidal mud flats. Most of this oil was vacuumed out using vacuum transfer units on grounded barges staged around the islands and shallow areas. Seawalls within the bay were being washed using high-pressure water heated to 110 degrees.
The GST was onscene throughout the spill response. They provided support with the Vessel of Opportunity Skimming System as well as the fire fighting, monitoring, and lightering of the Ocean 255 barge. Roughly 14.5 miles of fine-grained sand beach from St. Petersburg Beach north to Redington Shores Beach were affected by this spill. Sand beaches on Egmont Key at the entrance to Tampa Bay were also oiled. Additionally, four mangrove islands inside the entrance to Boca Ciega Bay at Johns Pass and two small areas of Spartina marsh were oiled. Jetties, seawalls, and riprap within the bay and at Johns Pass and Blind Pass were also oiled to varying degrees.
It is estimated that over 30 miles of residential seawalls were oiled within Boca Ciega Bay. Some impact also occurred on the northern side of Mullet Key at Bonne Fortune Key in fringing mangroves. Seawalls, jetties, walkways, and riprap were cleaned by high-pressure hot-water washes. PES-51 was considered for some of these cleaning needs, but after observing comparison tests performed by the manufacturer, the RP decided against its use. Cleanup of submerged tarmats offshore is ongoing. NOAA is working with the RRT, the GST, the Army Corps of Engineers, the FOSC, State officials, and various scientists and engineers to develop a sound method for dealing with the tarmats. Additional on-scene participation by NOAA is anticipated. USCG district 7.
|The Ixtoc I exploratory well blew out on June 3, 1979 in the Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico. By the time the well was brought under control in 1980, an estimated 140 million gallons of oil had spilled into the bay. The Ixtoc I is currently #2 on the all-time list of largest oil spills of all-time, eclipsed only by the deliberate release of oil, from many different sources, during the 1991 Gulf War. Image by NOAA.
Ixtoc I Oil Spill
June 3, 1979
Bahia de Campeche, Mexico
On June 3, 1979, the 2 mile deep exploratory well, IXTOC I, blew out in the Bahia de Campeche, 600 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The IXTOC I was being drilled by the SEDCO 135, a semi-submersible platform on lease to Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). A loss of drilling mud circulation caused the blowout to occur.
The oil and gas blowing out of the well ignited, causing the platform to catch fire. The burning platform collapsed into the wellhead area hindering any immediate attempts to control the blowout. PEMEX hired blowout control experts and other spill control experts including Red Adair, Martech International of Houston, and the Mexican diving company, Daivaz. The Martech response included 50 personnel on site, the remotely operated vehicle TREC, and the submersible Pioneer I. The TREC attempted to find a safe approach to the Blowout Preventer (BOP). The approach was complicated by poor visibility and debris on the seafloor including derrick wreckage and 3000 meters of drilling pipe.
Divers were eventually able to reach and activate the BOP, but the pressure of the oil and gas caused the valves to begin rupturing. The BOP was reopened to prevent destroying it. Two relief wells were drilled to relieve pressure from the well to allow response personnel to cap it. Norwegian experts were contracted to bring in skimming equipment and containment booms, and to begin cleanup of the spilled oil. The IXTOC I well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 - 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980.
|The Jupiter was offloading gasoline at Bay City, Michigan on September 16, 1990, when a fire started on board the vessel. Image by NOAA.
Jupiter Oil Spill
September 16, 1990
Saginaw River, Bay City, Michigan
At 0845 on September 16, 1990, the tank vessel Jupiter caught fire and exploded during offloading operations at the Total Oil Company refinery on the Saginaw river near Bay City, Michigan. A wake from a passing bulk carrier apparently caused the parting of the Jupiter's transfer hose, grounding cable, and all but one of its mooring lines. Residual gasoline in the broken transfer hose was believed to have been ignited by a spark on the dock.
The Jupiter's stern swung around into the Saginaw River and grounded perpendicular to the direction of the river flow. The grounding resulted in a crack in the vessel's hull from the manifold on the starboard side to 75 feet aft of the manifold on the port side. Area marinas were evacuated and vessel traffic was halted. Bangor County Fire Department and USCG personnel arrived on-scene within 30 minutes of the incident. The pier fire was extinguished in an attempt to save the last mooring line while the fire onboard the vessel remained out of control. Williams Boots & Coots Company (WB&C) from Houston, Texas, was contracted to fight the fire due to the lack of locally available trained personnel and equipment. At 1315 on September 17, WB&C personnel extinguished the blaze by applying foam.
Carbon black accumulations falling from the overhead re-ignited the fire at 2300. This second blaze was cooled with water and extinguished with foam on September 18. WB&C personnel also applied foam inside the vessel's cargo tanks to prevent re-ignition of the vessel. River flow data were obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers to predict the oil movement. Shock waves from the explosion may have contributed to the deaths of several fish that were recovered from around the vessel. Neither pollution nor shoreline contamination was observed during the final survey of the area on October 22. USCG district 9.
|The Mega Borg released 5.1 million gallons of oil as the result of a lightering accident and subsequent fire. The incident occurred 60 nautical miles south-southeast of Galveston, Texas on June 8, 1990. Image by NOAA.
Mega Borg Oil Spill
June 8, 1990
Gulf of Mexico, 57 miles SE of Galveston, Texas
On June 8, 1990 at approximately 2330, while the Italian tank vessel Fraqmura was lightering the Norwegian tank vessel Mega Borg, an explosion occurred in the pump room of the Mega Borg. The two ships were in the Gulf of Mexico, 57 miles southeast of Galveston Texas in international waters, but within the U.S. exclusive economic zone. As a result of the explosion, a fire started in the pump room and spread to the engine room.
An estimated 100,000 barrels of Angolan Palanca crude was burned or released into the water from the Mega Borg during the next seven days. Approximately 238 barrels of oil was discharged when the Fraqmura intentionally broke away from the Mega Borg. Explosions on the Mega Borg, caused the stern of the ship began to settle lower in the water and list to the port side.
A continuous discharge of burning oil flowed over the aft port quarter of the ship. Less than an hour after the explosions on the Mega Borg, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in Galveston dispatched two USCG cutters to the scene. Weather was calm throughout the incident. Winds were generally around 10 to 15 knots and air temperature were between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. USCG district 8.
|The Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the coast of Brittany, France on March 16, 1978, spilling 68.7 million gallons of oil. It currently is #6 on the list of the largest oil spills of all time. Image by NOAA.
Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill
March 16, 1978
On March 16, 1978, the Amoco Cadiz ran aground on Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany due to failure of the steering mechanism. The vessel had been en route from the Arabian Gulf to Le Havre, France when it encountered stormy weather which contributed to the grounding. The entire cargo of 1,619,048 barrels, spilled into the sea.
A slick 18 miles wide and 80 miles long polluted approximately 200 miles of Brittany coastline. Beaches of 76 different Breton communities were oiled. The isolated location of the grounding and rough seas restricted cleanup efforts for the two weeks following the incident. Severe weather resulted in the complete break up of the ship before any oil could be pumped out of the wreck.
As mandated in the "Polmar Plan", the French Navy was responsible for all offshore operations while the Civil Safety Service was responsible for shore cleanup activities. Although the total quantity of collected oil and water reached 100,000 tons, less than 20,000 tons of oil were recovered from this liquid after treatment in refining plants.
|On November 1, 1979, the Burmah Agate collided with the freighter Mimosa southeast of Galveston Entrance in the Gulf of Mexico. An estimated 2.6 million gallons of oil was released into the environment; another 7.8 million gallons was consumed by the fire onboard. This spill is currently #55 on the all-time list of largest oil spills. Image by NOAA.
Burmah Agate Oil Spill
November 1, 1979
Galveston Bay, Texas
On the morning of November 1, 1979, the Burmah Agate and the Mimosa collided at the entrance to Galveston Harbor. The Mimosa struck the Burmah Agate on its starboard side, tearing an 8 by 15 foot hole in the hull near Cargo Tank No. 5. An explosion occurred upon impact, and the leaking oil ignited.
The USCG immediately dispatched the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant to begin search and rescue operations. By 1230 all 26 crew members of the Mimosa had been found, but only 6 of the Burmah Agate's 37 crew members were accounted for.
The owners of the Burmah Agate assumed responsibility for the spill response. They contracted Clean Water, Inc. for cleanup operations, and Smit International Inc. to fight fires on the Burmah Agate, and to assist in salvage. The Burmah Agate burned until January 8, 1980 and was towed to Brownsville, Texas on February 1 for scrapping. USCG district 8.
|The Cibro Savannah exploded and caught fire while departing the pier at the CITGO facility in Linden, New Jersey, on March 6, 1990. About 127,000 gallons of oil remained unaccounted for after the incident: no one knows how much oil burned and how much spilled into the environment. Image by NOAA.
Barge Cibro Savannah Oil Spill
March 6, 1990
Linden, New Jersey
At 1400 on March 6, the barge Cibo Savannah exploded as it was being pulled from the dock at Linden, New Jersey. 710,000 gallons of number two fuel oil have been lost from two tanks. Potential is a total of 4,000,000 gallons in twelve tanks. The barge is owned by Montauk Oil Transportation. The barge has been moved up against the Citgo dock. The resulting fire has not been contained and the barge is not under command. Local fire departments are on-scene and the EPA has established an air monitoring station. USCG district 1.
|The Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 24, 1989, spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil into the marine environment. It is currently #53 on the all-time list of largest oil spills. Image by NOAA.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
March 24, 1989
Bligh Reef, Prince William Sound, Alaska
On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice.
Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay Crude. Eight of the eleven tanks on board were damaged. The oil would eventually impact over 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill to date in U.S. waters. The response to the Exxon Valdez involved more personnel and equipment over a longer period of time than did any other spill in U.S. history.
Logistical problems in providing fuel, meals, berthing, response equipment, waste management and other resources were one of the largest challenges to response management. At the height of the response, more than 11,000 personnel, 1,400 vessels and 85 aircraft were involved in the cleanup. Shoreline cleanup began in April of 1989 and continued until September of 1989 for the first year of the response.
The response effort continued in 1990 and 1991 with cleanup in the summer months, and limited shoreline monitoring in the winter months. Fate and effects monitoring by state and Federal agencies are ongoing. USCG district 17.