Between the recent Exxon spill of tar sands oil in Arkansas and the suspense about Obama’s (allegedly) imminent decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, oil is on everyone’s mind. In an effort to provide some sense of scale of the Arkansas incident, we located information on the 30 largest oil spills in history and here is what we discovered:
The Lakeview Gusher occurred in Kern County, California in 1910 when the Lakeview Oil Company erroneously drilled into a large deposit of oil when they were expecting natural gas. A lack of storage tanks resulted in a blown-out system and an oil geyser that belched for 18 months, resulting in 1.23 million tonnes of spillage. Also notable, an ill-considered strategic move by the Iraqi military, attempting to foil a landing by US troops, resulted in the Gulf War spill of 1991, which is still being cleaned up. One would think that the disastrous explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico almost three years ago would still be on the minds of North Americans who are nonchalant about the possible hazards of a transcontinental pipeline, but it seems we never learn.
The map shows us that the majority of bad oil spills have been related to maritime infrastructure, in the form of offshore rigs and tanker ships. This is not to say that pipelines and other forms of landside transport are much safer, but the potential for disaster is that much closer to home.