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Oil spill

Volunteers cleaning up the aftermath of the Prestige oil spill

An oil spill is the release of oil (generally, petroleum) into the natural environment, usually the ocean. Oil means oil of any kind or in any form and includes crude oil, oil refuse, petroleum-related products or by-products, oil mixed in waste, oily ballast, and oily bilge water.

Studies of the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill have shown that the environmental damage caused by oil spills is greater than was previously thought. It is now thought that the impact on marine life can be serious at less than one part per billion of pollution.

Oil can also be washed up on beaches, requiring a large amount of work to be cleaned up. Birds can also get oil stuck in their feathers, which can render them flightless unless washed. The oil can also poison them if they attempt to prean their feathers.

Heavier components of crude oil, such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) appear to cause the most damage; while they are relatively unreactive they persist in the water much longer than volatile components such as toluene.

Table of contents

Largest oil spills

  1. Gulf War oil spill, Persian Gulf, January 23 1991
  2. Ixtoc I oil well, S Gulf of Mexico, June 3, 1979
  3. Nowruz oil field, Persian Gulf, February, 1983
  4. Atlantic Empress and Aegean Captain collision, off Trinidad and Tobago, July 19, 1979
  5. Castillo de Bellver, off Cape Town, South Africa, August 6, 1983
  6. Amoco Cadiz (BP/Amoco, USA) – Britanny, France, March 16 1978
  7. Torrey Canyon, South England, March 18 1967
  8. Sea Star, Gulf of Oman, December 19, 1972
  9. Urquiola, La Coruna, Spain, May 12, 1976
  10. Hawaiian Patriot, N Pacific February 26, 1977
  11. Othello, Tralhavet Bay, Sweden, March 20, 1970

Other notable spills

Ordered larger to smaller:

See also


  • "The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004"
  • "Oil Spill Case Histories 1967–1991" NOAA/Hazardous Materials and Response Division, Seattle WA, 1992

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