Far from isolated mega-catastrophes — such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound — oil spills occur routinely around the world, causing environmental and economic damage, provoking investigations by regional governments, and often leaving the victims unsatisfied.
Entering the words “oil spill” in the Google News search engine returned more than 2,500 distinct articles published in the last 30 days on the topic.
At the top of the news right now is the 100-foot fountain of petroleum that smothered the Canadian town of Burnaby this week, after a pipeline was pierced by a road-excavation crew.
Fifty homes were evacuated and the contamination spread to the nearby Burrard Inlet, a harbor and wetlands ecosystem home to a variety of marine wildlife, including four species of salmon.
Experts told the Canadian Press that the cleanup will cost millions, and that the toxic effects of petroleum in soil, sand and water could last for decades.
According to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, members of the road crew that breached the pipeline said it was improperly marked, a charge denied by the company that owns it.
Burnaby officials, meanwhile, say the city has strict guidelines to prevent such accidents.
But Canada is not alone in its plight.
In Kenya, 40,000 liters of oil spilled from an overturned tanker truck into the nearby Nzoia River.
The Nation, based in Nairobi, reports that the river is already degraded from overfishing and deforestation, and that the spill could be a coup de grace for fish species there.
South Africa’s Saldanha Bay is also threatened by a spill from a ship that was refueling last weekend.
Environmentalists called for bolstered fines and enforcement, saying that the harbor is already degraded, and that oil has covered the water and shoreline, threatening fish, crustaceans and birds, including flamingos.
In Spain, the cleanup of tons of oil leaking from a sunken ship off the coast of Ibiza was set back by renewed leaks, after underwater welding failed to seal cracks in the ship’s hill.
In Scotland, authorities say an oil slick spreading through the Firth of Forth can only partly be blamed on a nearby refinery, but they are at a loss to identify other potential sources.
Lebanon’s coast remains polluted with oil spilled during Israel’s 2006 war with the Hezbollah militia.
The Lebanon Daily Star reports that spokespersons for the Environment and Public works ministries blame each other for the lack of action.
Back in the United States, 813 reported oil and fuel spills have contaminated Prince William Sound from 1995-2005, despite new regulations and awareness following the Valdez disaster.
The latest saw 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel pour from a fishing vessel that grounded itself in well-marked waterways.
In Massachusetts, a state senator complained that four years after a “catastrophic” spill near Cape Cod, coastal waters are still vulnerable after the state’s Oil Spill Prevention Act was largely nullified by a federal court.
The U.S. Justice Department successfully argued that coastal regulation was the domain of the Coast Guard, not states. The ruling is currently under appeal; The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., reports that more than 2 billion gallons of petroleum products pass through Cape Cod every year.
In New York, officials are suing ExxonMobil for 17 million gallons of oil spilled over 50 years in Brooklyn; CNN reports that even now oil is spilling into local waterways, which border on numerous refineries, including ExxonMobil properties. [SEE READER COMMENT BELOW FOR MORE.]
And a 72,000 gallon refinery spill affecting Oklahoma and Kansas residents was described by environmentalists as “another Love Canal.”
Lawyersandsettlements.com, a trade and consumer publication, claims that “thousands” of homes have been condemned, farm crops destroyed, and “hundreds” of fish killed.
The publication also says that the refinery was built in a low-income neighborhood, and that complaints of odors and pollution have been ignored, provoking a class action lawsuit by residents.
But legal recourse can be cold comfort.
In the Philippines, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund turned down more than 125,000 claims over a spill near the island of Guimaras.
The fund said many claimants “failed to prove they were directly affected by the spill,” GMA News reported, and that 134 applications still needed final approval.
While a governmental task force said that “life in Guimaras has been restored,” a Wikipedia entry flagged for potential bias claims that the spill is an “ongoing environmental and economic disaster,” and “the worst oil spill” in Philippine history.
“Burnaby oil spill will have long-term toxic impact: experts”
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 25, 2007
“Oil-spill cleanup could cost millions”
Canadian Press, July 25, 2007
“Kenya: Experts Want Dangers of Oil Spills Tackled”
The Nation (Kenya), July 25, 2007
“Oil Spill in Saldanha Bay Poses Threat to Wildlife”
Cape Argus (South Africa), July 23, 2007
“Spain Deals With Oil Spill Near Island”
Associated Press, July 14, 2007
“Watchdog on alert after oil spill in Forth”
The Scotsman, July 20, 2007
“Environmental group presses ministry to clear coastline of polluted sand”
The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 25, 2007
“Cleanup starts on large diesel spill in Prince William Sound”
Associated Press, July 23, 2007
“Sen. Montigny says Buzzards Bay still ‘unprotected’ in oil spill aftermath”
The Standard Times (Massachusetts), July 24, 2007
“New York sues Exxon over oil spill”
CNN.com, July 17, 2007
“‘Another Love Canal’: Environmentalists Assess Oil Spill Dangers” — BIAS CONCERNS
Lawyers & Settlements, July 21, 2007
“Int’l body junks 125,000 Guimaras oil spill claims”
GMAnews.tv (Philippines), July 23, 2007
“Guimaras oil spill” — BIAS CONCERNS