How often does oil get spilled?

Everyone is watching the gulf of Mexico with horror after the Deepwater Horizon spill, a spill that started in April and just keeps on giving. Meanwhile, we keep hearing platitudes about how rare this sort of thing is and how safe oil drilling really is. But is it? As Yale points out:

The swiftly unfolding environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has riveted the world’s attention in recent weeks, but as the blog AidData points out, the amount of oil spilled in the Niger Delta over five decades far exceeds the disaster in the Gulf, with even more devastating environmental consequences. Citing statistics from the United Nations Development Program, AidData says estimates of oil spilled in the Niger Delta since 1960 range from 5.75 million to 10 million barrels, roughly triple the amount of oil that has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from the blown-out Deepwater Horizon rig.

Click to enlarge
BP Nigeria Oil Spills

OIL SPILLED: Nigeria spill (1960-present) and the 2010 BP spill

The folks over at Skytruth have an interactive map of spills in the Gulf of Mexico. If you follow the link, you will see that there have been dozens of oil related dramas in the Gulf, just since January of this year. It seems that oil spills are far more common that we are led to believe.

Most people don’t even know about the second largest spill in history, the result of the first Gulf war in Iraq/Kuwait.

I am far more suspicious of the platitudes being murmured by our fearless Ministers here in New Zealand than I was just a year ago. Self-regulation and voluntary standards are proving to be a farce, and a very expensive farce at that.

13 Comments Posted

  1. @Mark – I doubt if capping any of the current leaks would cause other plugs to blow. Even if one did blow, that could be capped again. It isn’t an endless chain of dominoes.


  2. Last time I checked there were at least six separate leaks in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore -‘capping’ any or all of these will cause any number of ‘plugs’ (that are not currently leaking) to blow.
    All that expensive coastline – from Galveston to Florida, ruined indefinitely eh?
    And the ‘News’ is slight info-tainment – a case of the JH’s if you don’t want to know…then for God’s sake don’t look.

  3. I can think of only one country which may not have enough renewable energy which could be harnessed to power its population – Vatican City. The energy is there, in the form of sunlight, wind, waves, tidal flow and geothermal energy. What we don’t have are the means to harness these resources or to smooth out the daily and annual fluctuations in supply and demand. The technology is available, but the implementation is all too little, too late.

  4. frog,

    for what it is worth the matter of unhinging a largely polarised (to fossil fuels) economy formed none other than one very solid presentation to the second Bush administration whose Grand Oil Party(GOP) had been largely responsible.. perhaps you’ll thereby accept this his ‘team’s’ eventual response to it was to invent the intensity argument – better seen I think for what it.. an excuse.. to tie energy-use to economic growth.

    you talk of humble pie.. and normally I would have gone along with this.. but the advocacy of less is more – rather than the hubris of more or less – deserves pride and persistence.. and so I wish you well my friend..

  5. Paul

    I would recommend the following:

    Loren expects to add in climate change models as well, to make this even more responsive.

    My view is that the change in culture that we desire to achieve is not possible with the monetary system we currently labor under. The first place to change is not “attitudes” or “culture”, it is the fractional-reserve fiat currency which, in application to the planet as a whole, makes constant growth a compulsory feature of global economics.

    Sneaky thing about it is that it looks so “innocent” out there… but it gives bankers control of the money supply, which gives them control of governments and countries, which leads to the economic debacle we have, and which makes any rational expectation of sustainability come to naught…. because we are all embedded in this monetary system and know in our gut that we have to keep growing or be consumed ourselves.

    As for whether we can make more energy available sustainably. We humans could easily do so if we invest in cheap access to space instead of cheaper cars.

    Moreover, NZ is in far better shape than most countries in terms of renewable energy available per capita.


  6. The answer is that oil is going to be spilled a lot more often.

    As the easy oil continues to decline in volume, the oil companies will tackle the harder sources. And as its harder there will be more problems.

    No-one thinks the oil companies want to drill where the going is tough, do they? They’re only there because they are out of options.

    Finally, if the question is “do Americans want to pay more for gas to pay for environmental improvements, my guess is that the answer will be “give is the cheapest possible gas, hang the environment”. (possibly adding “as long as its not my back yard getting polluted”)

  7. I suspect tomfarmer, that our ‘westernized’ economy will be unhinged by the peak and decline of fossil fuels, rather than a lack of renewables. The push for renewables is to limit the amount and intensity of the unhinging, IMHO. A society based on renewables will look nothing like our current society. There’s some humble pie to be eaten – probably in our lifetimes. The sooner we start making the change, the less it will hurt, and the more our fossil fuels can be put to productive ends – building our renewable future.

  8. Paul wrote: — Renewable energy – Cannot sustain an energy-intensive society.

    Question.. can renewable energy – present + future potential realised – sustain an energy UNintensive society?

    If so, or not, how much unintensiveness might rejig the former without unhinging a ‘westernised’ economy.?

  9. The renewable alternative, Four Possible BP-Style Extreme Energy Nightmares to Come

    It’s so tempting to believe in a technological fix for the problem of
    dwindling supply of cheap oil. Electric cars have been promised for
    everyone for decades, but the deeper problem beyond somehow financing a
    consumer conversion from the internal combustion engine is the unthinking
    notion of a supply-side solution to the energy crisis. Ignorance of energy
    issues is prevalent.

    Can the world run on renewables, nuclear energy and geo-sequestration? The
    negative case
    by Ted Trainer  23 June 2010

    This is a summary of a new paper published in Energy Policy, available at For a detailed discussion of renewable energy’s limits
    see Renewable energy – Cannot sustain an energy-intensive society.

    For many years I have been arguing that consumer-capitalist society is so
    grossly unsustainable that technical advance cannot solve the problems it
    is generating. I have especially developed the case against the dominant
    belief that alternative energy sources can substitute for fossil fuels.
    This is not an argument against transition to renewables. We must do that,
    and we could live well on them, but not at anything like the levels of
    consumption we have today……

    Major global problems such as greenhouse, peak oil, energy supply, resource scarcity, Third World “development” and environmental destruction cannot be solved on the
    supply side, i.e., by finding more resources or moving to alternative
    technologies. These rapidly worsening problems can only be solved by
    dramatically reducing consumption. This means consumer-capitalist society
    cannot be fixed; it must be replaced by what I refer to as The Simpler way.
    This must involve very low levels of material consumption, mostly small and
    highly self-sufficient local economies, designed to meet need and not
    driven by profit motivation, and with no growth at all. (For the detail see
    The Simpler Way website, Trainer, 2006, and especially .)

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