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Home* News and Stories → Oil spills in cold cli­ma­te are­as: are and remain uncon­troll­able

Oil spills in cold cli­ma­te are­as: are and remain uncon­troll­able

It is almost 25 years ago that the oil tan­ker Exxon Val­dez hit a reef on the south coast of Alas­ka. The Exxon Val­dez achie­ved sad fame when an alco­ho­lic cap­tain and an over­char­ged third mate stee­red the ship on rocks on March 24, 1989. 37,000 tons of cru­de oil were spil­led and pol­lu­ted 2,000 km of coast­li­ne. The result was and is an eco­lo­gi­cal and eco­no­mic­al dis­as­ter for a who­le regi­on.

Sci­en­tists have now had 25 years to stu­dy the con­se­quen­ces of an oil spill in cold (but not high arc­tic) coas­tal waters. The results are sobering:

  • A cle­a­nup of a major spill of cru­de or hea­vy oil is impos­si­ble. Despi­te using resour­ces of about 2 bil­li­on US-$, Exxon has mana­ged to clean up a mere 7 % of the pol­lu­ted coast­li­ne. After the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon cata­stro­phe in the Gulf of Mexi­co, BP has used an astro­no­mic 20 bil­li­on US-$ but “clea­ned” no more than 3 % of coast­li­ne and sur­face waters, lar­ge­ly by using other toxic che­mi­cals. Con­clu­si­on: it is impos­si­ble to clean up a spill of hea­vy or cru­de oil once it has hap­pen­ed.
  • Once dama­ge is a fact, it will last a long time, if not fore­ver. In Alas­ka, 32 habi­tats and popu­la­ti­on have been moni­to­red after the Exxon Val­dez dis­as­ter. Out of the­se, only 13 are con­side­red ful­ly “reco­ver­ed” or “very likely reco­ver­ed.” Thou­sands of tons of oil are still in the sedi­ment, pol­lu­ting their sur­roun­dings for a very long time.
  • Eco­lo­gi­cal dama­ge can­not be repai­red by man, only by natu­re its­elf. To make this pos­si­ble, eco­sys­tems have to be int­act.
  • The risks of oil spills, both the likeli­hood of such an event and the fol­lo­wing impact, is usual­ly unde­re­sti­ma­ted or down­play­ed by aut­ho­ri­ties and indus­tries.
  • Pre­ven­ti­on is the only stra­tegy that real­ly makes sen­se. Curr­ent­ly, the indus­try tends to a redu­ce spill risk to “As Low As Reason­ab­ly Prac­ti­ca­ble” (ALARP); ins­tead of “As Low As Pos­si­ble” (ALAP), regard­less of cost” alt­hough “pre­ven­ti­on is cle­ar­ly cost-effec­ti­ve”.
  • In cold are­as, the eco­lo­gi­cal impact and tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties increase stron­gly. Any attempt of clean-up in ice waters are high­ly unrea­li­stic to be suc­cessful.

The­se are some of the key results pre­sen­ted by Pro­fes­sor Stei­ner in an artic­le in the Huf­fing­ton Post. On the long term, only abs­ti­nence of oil will pre­vent oil spills. This was one of the demands of the 1989 dis­as­ter in Alas­ka, but the glo­bal need for oil has obvious­ly increased dra­ma­ti­cal­ly sin­ce. Sus­taina­bi­li­ty is not yet a signi­fi­cant fac­tor in decis­i­on making in poli­tics and eco­no­my.

Small oil spill next to a lea­king die­sel tank at a sta­ti­on in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca.

Oil spill, Antarctica

Source: Huf­fing­ton Post



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last modification: 2014-07-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange