Green Quiz Answer - The impact of oil spills

Gulf on fire

With the impact of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill ever-present in Alaska's Prince William Sound, and effects still being felt in the Gulf of Mexico from the 1979 Ixtoc I spill, it is vital that we continue to support the restoration of these threatened ecosystems.

Thousands of oil spills have occurred throughout our drilling history, but how does the spill in the Gulf compare with some of the largest spills ever recorded?

Last month we asked you: How does the volume of the Gulf Oil Spill to-date compare with past oil spills?
    A. It is the largest in international history.
    B. It is the largest in U.S. history.
    C. It is not as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
    D. It is not as large as the 1979 Ixtoc I Oil Spill.

The correct answer is B. It is the largest in U.S. history. Congratulations to this month’s Green Quiz winners: Tricia Brown, Jerry Elliott, & Davena Gentry!

Federal scientists reported this week that the BP Deepwater Horizon spill sent an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil (roughly 206 million gallons) gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. This far surpasses early estimates from both BP and government officials, and distinguishes the Gulf disaster as the largest accidental oil spill in history. The Ixtoc I spill, the previous record-holder in this category, was capped after nearly 10 months with an estimated 140 million gallons leaked.

What was the largest spill in international history?
  • The largest oil spill occurred in 1991 during the Gulf War, dumping an estimated 252-336 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. The spill was the result of the deliberate release of several pipeline and tanker valves by Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The resulting oil slick was determined to have reached the size of 101 by 42 miles wide, and 5 inches thick.
  • The Niger Delta oil spills also top the charts with an estimated 7,000 spills affecting the region between 1970 and 2000, spilling nearly 13 million barrels of oil into the Delta.

What makes the Deepwater Horizon spill different?
The recent Deepwater Horizon spill occurred at a depth of 5,000 feet, far surpassing previous spills of its size. Damage at such dramatic depths is difficult for scientists to observe, and effects from the vast underwater plumes are still being uncovered. What is clear is that deep water marine life that would largely escape the effects of a surface spill are now facing the imminent risk of exposure to toxic compounds and a depleted oxygen supply.

What are the long-term effects of oil spills?
Massive spills are known to generate widespread and devastating environmental consequences that often persist decades after the oil has stopped flowing. It is expected that it will take many years for scientists to gather a full understanding of effects from the latest Gulf disaster, especially along the fragile coastal wetlands and marshes.

Many of those who depend on the Gulf waters for their livelihoods are also concerned about the unknown side effects that Corexit (chemical dispersant used by BP) and the submerged oil will have on the local fishing industry, a major contributor to the region’s economy.

The Exxon Valdez Spill
Twenty-one years after the Exxon Valdez spill occurred in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil is still being discovered along the coast, and according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the remaining oil (estimated at 21,000 gallons) is decreasing at a rate of only 0-4% per year. The Trustee Council has also found that after two decades, the lingering oil is nearly as toxic as it was immediately following the 1989 spill and that several wildlife populations are not recovering as quickly as expected.

What can I do to help?
  • Reduce your energy consumption at home, on the road, and in your everyday life.
  • Write to your representatives and demand a push for clean energy alternatives.
  • Volunteer in the Gulf – Check out our volunteer resources page here.
  • Give to the Gulf – Support the efforts of our member groups working around the clock to restore the land and wildlife affected by the oil spill.


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