Apr 4, 2008

Learning about oil spills

Here's some things I found out about oil spills ...

How do oil spills happen?

Oill spills can be accidental: ship accidents or collisions, spillage from oil or petrochemical pipelines or installations.

Oill spills can be deliberate: "routine" discharges from ships when they clean fuel tanks, machinery spaces, ballast tanks.

From the Global Marine Oil Pollution Gateway

"In a sea area with Special Area status under the international MARPOL Convention Annex I, deliberate discharges is forbidden. All oily wastes (mixtures) must be kept on board until the vessel reaches a reception facility in port. Furthermore, it is not allowed to discharge bilge water unless it has been properly cleaned and contains no more than 15 mg of oil per litre.

Most sea areas are not Special Areas
. So far, these are the only designated Special Areas: the Mediterranean Sea area, the Baltic Sea area, the Red Sea area, the Gulf of Aden area, the Antarctic area, and the North West European waters."

What is MPA's policy on operational discharges?

It's not clear from the Maritime Port Authority's website what the policy is for Singapore waters.

On their page about Safety & Environment there is general reference to the issue, but no specifics.

"In the busy waterways of the Singapore port and the Singapore Strait, navigational safety and keeping the waters clean are a priority. The MPA uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure that shipping traffic, coastal and port development projects and siltation do not compromise navigational safety or adversely affect the marine environment.

Singapore also has effective oil and chemical response capabilities and is a party to major international conventions that protect the marine environment."

How does oil spill frequency in Singapore compare with the global situation?

According to the Oil Spill Intelligence Report 1999 (quoted on the Global Marine Oil Pollution Gateway) "oil spills happen more frequently in certain parts of the world."

"The 'hot spots' for oil spills from vessels are:

  • the Gulf of Mexico (267 spills);
  • the northeastern U.S. (140 spills);
  • the Mediterranean Sea (127 spills);
  • the Persian Gulf (108 spills);
  • the North Sea (75 spills);
  • Japan (60 spills);
  • the Baltic Sea (52 spills);
  • the United Kingdom and English Channel (49 spills);
  • Malaysia and Singapore (39 spills);
  • the west coast of France and north and west coasts of Spain (33 spills);
  • Korea (32 spills)"
Where does oil in the sea come from?

Not just from ships, but also from natural sources as well as from gaseous pollutants (yup, from cars).

Here's more from the Global Marine Oil Pollution Gateway quoting a 2002 report by the National Research Council (NRC), U.S. National Academy of Sciences

"The average total worldwide annual release of petroleum (oils) from all known sources to the sea has been estimated at 1.3 million tonnes. However, the range is wide, from a possible 470,000 tonnes to a possible 8.4 million tonnes per year.

The main sources contributing to the total input:
  • natural seeps: 46%
  • discharges from consumption of oils (operational discharges from ships and discharges from land-based sources): 37%
  • accidental spills from ships; 12%
  • extraction of oil: 3%
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) claims the following distribution of the inputs from different sources:
  • Land-based sources (urban runoff and discharges from industry): 37%
  • Natural seeps: 7%
  • The oil industry - tanker accidents and offshore oil extraction: 14%
  • Operational discharges from ships not within the oil industry: 33%
  • Airborne hydrocarbons: 9%
Are tanker accidents the major source of marine oil pollution?

From the Global Marine Oil Pollution Gateway

No. Although every major oil spill from a tanker or a rig, hitting coastal areas and beaches and killing marine life and seabirds, is a tragedy and causes much damage, it has been estimated that oil spills in conjunction with tanker accidents or oil platform blowouts account for a minor part, approximately 10-15 per cent, of the total annual oil input of oils to the marine environment.

More FAQs
on the Global Marine Oil Pollution Gateway including questions such as
  • Does oil in the sea only kill seabirds?
  • Can a damaged coastal habitat and damaged wildlife ever recover from an oil spill?
  • Can an oil spill affect human health?
  • Who pays for the damage caused by oil spills?
  • What can be done to prevent marine oil pollution?
  • You see big rescue operations at sea and shore cleanup operations, but can they really stop anything?
  • Can I myself do anything at all to prevent further marine oil pollution?
More links
Oil spills and disasters major incidents since 1967 to 2007 on the infoplease website.
What's the Story on Oil Spills? an easy guide to the issues on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

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