6 Horrible Oil Spills Since Deepwater Horizon That You Probably Didn't Hear About
On April 20, 2010, the giant Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean Inc. and operated by BP, exploded some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 crew members before sinking into the Gulf of Mexico two days later.
The rig’s underwater well, called Macondo, was 5,000 feet below sea level. The extreme environment—and, critics contend, lax oversight and governmental regulation—made it hard to stanch the flow of oil into the sea.
By the time Macondo was finally capped on July 15, more than 210 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Though environmentalists pounced on the accident as an occasion to push for an end to our oil-dependent lifestyles, BP and its big oil brethren have continued to rake in outsize earnings. In 2013, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell took home $93 billion in profits—that’s $177,000 per minute.
The accidents haven't stopped either. Here are six of the largest oil spills around the world that have occurred since that fateful day nearly four years ago.
Little Buffalo, Alberta
On April 29, 2011, more than 868,000 gallons of crude oil from Plains Midstream Canada’s Rainbow Pipeline spilled into a forest 20 miles from the Lubicon Cree First Nation community of Little Buffalo, Alberta. Three hectares of beaver ponds and swampland were contaminated. Many residents reported experiencing headaches and nausea from the fumes. Two years after the spill, Plains Midstream was fined for violating Canada’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The spill was considered to be Alberta’s worst in 35 years.
Kalamazoo River, Michigan
A pipeline transporting diluted bitumen—aka tar sands oil—from Ontario, Canada, to Indiana ruptured into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, on July 26, 2010. The size of the spill was initially reported to be 877,000 gallons. But in 2012, the EPA said that cleanup crews recovered 1.1 million gallons of oil and 200,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment and debris. Three years after the spill, an oil sheen remained on the river, according to The New York Times. Enbridge, the Alberta-based energy company that owned the ruptured pipeline, was fined $3.7 million by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the incident. The cost of the oil spill has been estimated to exceed $1 billion. Enbridge now wants to build a pipeline transporting tar sands oil through a pristine boreal forest in Western Canada.
Bonga Oil Field, Nigeria
On Dec. 21, 2011, Royal Dutch Shell’s Bonga oil field in Nigeria leaked 1.24 million gallons of oil into the Niger Delta. The Guardian reported that satellite watchdog organization Skytruth posted photos indicating that the spill was 43.5 miles long and covered 356 square miles. Nigerian activist organization Environmental Rights Action told the newspaper that it did not believe Shell’s 1.24-million-gallon claim, saying that the “company consistently underreports the amounts.” Every year Shell and other companies spill the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez tanker capacity into the Niger Delta.
A 72-car freight train operated by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway derailed July 6, 2013, in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and spilling 1.5 million gallons of oil. Half the city’s downtown area was destroyed by a subsequent blast. The spill leaked into the Chaudière River, a waterway that flows to the St. Lawrence River. It took crews 36 hours to extinguish the fires. The cleanup has involved siphoning oil from the river and removing more than 25,000 cubic meters of toxic soil. The rebuilding effort will cost an estimated $200 million. A criminal investigation by the Quebec police is ongoing. 2013 was the worst year ever for oil spills from trains in North America.
Guarapiche River, Venezuela
On Feb. 4, 2012, a ruptured pipeline operated by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA spilled crude oil into the Guarapiche River, near Maturin. While government officials said they could not determine how much was spilled, one lawmaker (from an opposition party to the government) told media that 1.86 million gallons were spilled. Environment Minister Alejandro Hitcher said that the country had deployed 1,500 workers to clean up the spill. A PDVSA executive later told the state-run news agency AVN that “a good percentage” had been cleaned up, Reuters reported.
Yellow Sea, China
After a pipeline heading to a port in Dalian, China, ruptured on July 16, 2010, the Chinese government said that 461,790 gallons had spilled into the Yellow Sea. But two weeks after the spill, Rick Steiner, a former academic conservationist with the University of Alaska, said that after touring the area, he estimated the volume spilled to be between 18.47 and 27.70 million gallons. That figure, he told The Associated Press, was “at least as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster." Steiner toured the spill area as a consultant for Greenpeace China, The World Post reported. He calculated his estimates based on his understanding that a 27.7-million-gallon oil storage tanker that reportedly had been filled was destroyed during the incident.