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The 4 Worst Oil Spills in History

From armaments to heating to medicine, the use of petroleum (oil) dates back thousands of years. Its surge came during the Industrial Revolution, when oil became valuable as a fuel and eventual replacement for coal, wood and other traditional energy sources.

There are major advantages to using liquid petroleum over the latter mentioned elements. This namely includes its concentration, which allows for more cost-effective transportation. However, oil is not without its downsides.

Whether due to faulty equipment, human error or sheer misfortune, untold gallons of oil have been spilled into the environment, polluting coastlines and harming wildlife. Here, we explore the top four worst oil spills in history.

Fergana Valley

Starting with the largest land-based oil spill of all time, as well as the worst to occur on the Asian continent, the Fergana Valley (also known as the Mingbulak) oil spill took place in Uzbekistan on March 2, 1992. It was the result of a blowout at a well close to the city of Fergana, which spewed an estimated 88 million gallons into a nearby valley.

That amount would have reached well into the hundred-million if not for some helpful berms and dikes. What oil wasn’t contained caught fire and burned for almost six weeks before authorities managed to reduce the well pressure.

Ixtoc 1

Between June 1979 and March 1980, the Ixtoc 1 platform released approximately 140 million gallons of crude oil into the Mexican coast. The accident was caused by an explosion aboard the rig, which began when drilling mud became clogged and created an accumulation of gas in the pipe.

As workers tried to remove the drill and regain control of the flow, a mass of oil, mud and natural gas flew up the pipe. The blowout preventer failed and motors on the surface ignited. The disaster could have been prevented by modern technologies like oil stop valves, which have saved countless lives and millions of dollars in recent years.

Atlantic Empress

Taking place some 10 miles off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, the Atlantic Empress disaster saw the release of an estimated 90 million gallons of oil into the Atlantic ocean. It was caused by a collision between the aforementioned tanker and another by the name of Aegan Captain on July 19, 1979.

The tropical storm during the accident was no match for the resulting fire on both ships, with the former burning for two weeks before sinking. Somewhat fortunately, the winds pushed most of the oil out to sea where it dispersed.

Deepwater Horizon

Perhaps one of the most well-known disasters of this kind, and the largest accidental oil spill in history, BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill occurred on the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. A surge of gas breached a seal and rose to the platform, causing the rig to capsize and release what some sources estimate to be 206 million gallons of oil.

While all of the above were colossal disasters, the very worst oil spill in history was no accident. It was the Persian Gulf War spill of 1991, which saw the loss of between 380 million and 520 million gallons of oil.

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