The Valdez Oil Spill and the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill
Exxon Valdez was an oil tanker ship that measured 987 feet, this tanker had an oil spill on 24th of March 1989 in Prince William Sound of Alaska. This oil spill, at that time was deemed “the most devastating human caused accident, which shook every pillar of the environmental ecosystem.” (Raunekk and Swagatam, 2010). Another oil spill occurred in recent future events that cause devastating damage to the environment, on the 20th of April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spills according to Sevhoo (2013), are caused, at least most of them from human brings dependency on oil for energy, which leads to the extraction, transportation, and refining, storing and the discarded matter from refined oil goods.
Sevhoo (2013) continues, saying, this dependency leads to crashes and human errors or improper and/or illegal behavior regarding oil extraction rigs, tankers and other operations. There are also natural circumstances, which may cause oil spills, such as turbulent seas, storms and unforeseen well blowouts. Therefore, having experienced the first horrendous oil spill, the second most devastating oil spill should have been prevented. Have we finally learnt from these two detrimental oil spills, and is everything possible being done to prevent another oily demise for the environmental ecosystem?
As it relates to the oil spill of 1989, a Valdez oil tanker was scheduled for departure from one of the Alaskan terminals to Long Beach, California, on the 23rd of March. As stated by Raunekk and Swagatam, the Captain of the ship, placed the ship on auto pilot, and left the third mate and seaman in charge after he had maneuvered the ship pass all dangerous areas and major icebergs. However, on March 24, 1989, the ship struck the rocks of the Bligh Reef, which ruptured the hull of the ship that caused the oil spill. While both the Valdez oil spill and the Deepwater Horizon oil spills caused unequivocal damage to the environment, at the occurrence of the Deepwater Horizon rig oil spill, there was more imminent treat for the employees on the rig when compared to personnel on the Valdez tanker. The rig had an explosion causing the oil spill while the tanker’s hull was damaged from rocks in the reef, according to Aeberman 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill ensued from an explosion, which was caused by a flawed well blueprint that did not have enough cement between the production and the protection casings.
Investigations revealed that the Valdez tanker from the Exxon Shipping Company, crashed into the reef because the company could not make available, enough competent and efficient crew to the ship. Raunekk and Swagatam (2010) says , it was found that crew members were required to have six hours rest before starting another twelve hour duty, and the 3rd mate on duty neglected his required rest. Making the probability of stress and extreme workload to be the cause of incompetent watch-keeping by the 3rd mate. It was also found that the radar that directs the auto pilot was not working from the ship left the terminal, this points to the lack of maintenance for the ship since the ship was on auto pilot when it struck the reef. Finally, there were claims that the ship’s master was under the influence of alcohol when he left the 3rd mate in control of the vessel (Raunekk and Swagatam, 2010).
In regards to the Deepwater Horizon spillage, Aeberman (2010) says, through investigations it was discovered that the plans used for the well did not include enough cement, which does not guarantee the integrity of the seal, making it a defective plan. The approval for this plan was used on numerous jobs before without incident, however, the individuals in charge of the operation should have denied the use of the plans. Regardless that the wells from previous jobs did not blowout gives no justification for the approval and use of an unsafe plan. The investigations proved that there is a high probability that gas had routed past the insufficient cement job where it reached the seals and pack-offs, which led to the blowout and subsequent explosions (Aeberman, 2010).
The effects of both oil spillage were detrimental and catastrophic to the surrounding environments and its habitants, the effects are still being felt today. Between the Valdez oil spill and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill a vast amount of aquatic life was lost and numerous injuries to many more. However, only one oil spill claimed and injured human life and this was the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. From the explosions that occurred on the rig, eleven men lost their lives, another 115 men sustained injuries (Aeberman, 2010). The families of the eleven men are left grieving and 115 men who barely escaped with their lives via life boats or jumping off into the ocean are left nursing psychological wounds. Looking at both oil spills, Katherine Unger of The Wildlife Society believes, it is obvious that the Deep Water Horizon oil spill of 2010 was far worse than the Valdez oil spill of 1989.
The key factors that separate these oil spills and put Deep water as the one that caused more damage are: the source of the oil, Valdez oil spill was finite as it was an oil tanker with known amount of oil, while Deep Water Horizon was infinite being that it was an oil platform with a broken well (Katherine Unger). Another major difference is the leak location and cause of the spill, the oil spillage from the Valdez was 10.8 million gallons, the Deep Water Horizon was an estimated 172 million gallons (Katherine Unger). This wide gap in spillage is due to that fact that the Valdez spillage was caused by tanker striking the reef, which means the oil spill was mainly on the surface of the water. While the Deepwater Horizon was caused by an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the water.
According to Viola Franklyn of the Franklyn, many wild life were also eradicated from both spillage. From the 1989 oil spill, there were approximately “100,000-250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs” that died from the hostile effects of the oil in their habitat. Franklyn states that during the six months that followed the 2010 oil spill, more than 7,000 birds, about 100 marine mammals (sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, blue whales, West Indian manatees and other marine mammals), 1,066 sea turtles and other reptiles. The oil spill impact on fish and aquatic invertebrates, at the six month evaluation was undetermined but was nonetheless numerous.
Investigation into the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster are ongoing, in 2011 a group of scientists did a complete physical on dolphins in Barataria Bay. It was revealed that approximately half the dolphins studied were extremely ill; with roughly 17 percent of the dolphins expected to survive the illness. The death and illness of many creatures and the death of the eleven men (from the Deep water Horizon), are at the peak of these oil spills. But Raunekk and Swagatam says, a myriad of other negative effects on wildlife seem to be endless, not to mention the obliteration of the Beaches and coastal lines. As well as the life style of the people in these regions were greatly affected to the point of being completely changed as the fishing industry came to a sudden standstill.
As stated by Shevoo, the occurrence of these two deleterious oil spills various new laws were put in place, but it is obvious that this law needs to be enforced. There are a number of thing that can be done to prevent future oil spills apart from enforcing the laws, which obviously are not effective as oil spills continue to happen. It is imperative to maintain the vessels or rigs by doing regular inspection for corrosion, leakages and degeneration, in all equipment. This should be done at regular intervals or at least an annual basis to ensure that all of the seals are tightly connected, fuel lines, hoses, auto pilot equipment and other important gear are still in good condition. Shell Global states that another precaution that oil companies have ensued is the burying of underwater pipelines deep under the seabed, where it cannot be damaged by floating ice.
While it is necessary to put measures in place to prevent such catastrophes from happening again, systems need to be in place for the off chance that an incidents does transpire. According to Shell Global “systems are designed to detect any drop in pressure in the pipes and activate multiple valve systems to stop the oil flow”. Companies have made substantial monetary investments in staff training programs and spill response vessels and equipment to enable quicker response to incidents. Companies have responded to the defective well plans and are “developing a well containment system designed to capture oil that could potentially leak from a well” (Shell Global). Companies can have continuous improvement in their preventative measures and spill response capabilities through participation in global research and development programs.
Aeberman (May 21, 2010). What caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster? The Oil Drum, Discussions about Energy and Our Future. Retrieved from http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6493
Franklyn, V. (n.d.). Compare the Exxon Valdez and BP Oil Spills. National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved from https://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Habitat/Gulf-Restoration/Oil Spill/Effects-on-Wildlife/Compare-Exxon-Valdez-and-BP-Oil-Spills.aspx
Katherine, U. (n.d.). Comparing Deepwater Horizon to Exxon Valdez. The Wildlife Society. Retrieved from http://joomla.wildlife.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=689
Raunekk & Swagatam (March 14, 2010). The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Its Consequences on the Environment. Bright Hub Engineering. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubengineering.com/marine-history/66248-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill- and-its=consequences-on-the-environment/
Sevhoo (May 4, 2013). How Can Future Oil Spills Be Prevented. Greenfudge, Environmental News with a European Twist. Retrieved from http://www.shevoo.org/2013/05/04/howcan-future-oil-spills-be-prevented/
Shell Global (n.d.). Oil spill prevention and response. Environment and Society. Retrieved from http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/arctic/oil-spill-prevention-reponse.html