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Geography of the World’s Largest Oil Spills

May 26, 2010

Exxon-Valdez oil spill

In the wake of Singapore’s first oil spill that happened yesterday, I thought I’d share an article I picked up on the geography of the world’s largest oil spills. Surprisingly, the Exxon-Valdez doesn’t make it to the top 15 list! Also, here’s a video on the oil spill off the coast of Singapore.

This article was originally published at

On April 20, 2010, a large oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on an oil drilling rig there. In the weeks following the spill, the news was dominated by depictions of the spill and its growing size as oil continued to leak from an underwater well and pollute the Gulf’s water as well as potentially harm wildlife, damage fisheries and hurt the economy of the Gulf region.

Oil spills like the one in the Gulf of Mexico are not uncommon and many spills that have been much larger have occurred in the world’s oceans and other waterways in the past. The following is a list of fifteen major oil spills organized by the final amount of oil that entered the waterway.

1) Arabian Gulf Spills

Note: This is currently the world’s largest and the oil spill took place during the Gulf War when Iraqi forces deliberately destroyed oil tankers, wells and terminals.

• Location: Persian Gulf
• Year: 1991
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 520 million gallons (1.9 billion liters)

2) Ixtoc I Oil Well

• Location: Gulf of Mexico
• Year: 1979
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 140 million gallons (530 million liters)

3) Atlantic Empress

• Location: Trinidad and Tobago
• Year: 1979
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 90 million gallons (340 million liters)

4) Fergana Valley

• Location: Uzbekistan
• Year: 1992
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 88 million gallons (333 million liters)

5) ABT Summer

• Location: 700 nautical miles from Angola (3,900 km)
• Year: 1991
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 82 million gallons (310 million liters)

6) Nowruz Field Platform

• Location: Persian Gulf
• Year: 1983
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 80 million gallons (303 million liters)

7) Castillo de Bellver

• Location: Saldanha Bay, South Africa
• Year: 1983
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 79 million gallons (300 million liters)

8 ) Amoco Cadiz

• Location: Brittany, France
• Year: 1978
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 69 million gallons (261 million liters)

9) MT Haven

• Location: Mediterranean Sea near Italy
• Year: 1991
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 45 million gallons (170 million liters)

10) Odyssey

• Location: 700 nautical miles (3,900 km) off of Nova Scotia, Canada
• Year: 1988
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 42 million gallons (159 million liters)

11) Sea Star

• Location: Gulf of Oman
• Year: 1972
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 37 million gallons (140 million liters)

12) Morris J. Berman

• Location: Puerto Rico
• Year: 1994
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 34 million gallons (129 million liters)

13) Irenes Serenade

• Location: Navarino Bay, Greece
• Year: 1980
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 32 million gallons (121 million liters)

14) Urquiola

• Location: A Coruña, Spain
• Year: 1976
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 32 million gallons (121 million liters)

15) Torrey Canyon

• Location: Isles of Scilly, United Kingdom
• Year: 1967
• Amount of Oil Spilled in Gallons and Liters: 31 million gallons (117 million liters)

These were some of the largest oil spills to take place around the world. Smaller oil spills that have been equally as damaging have also taken place throughout the late 20th century. For example, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989 was the largest spill in United States history. It occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska and spilled around 10.8 million gallons (40.8 million liters) and impacted 1,100 miles (1,609 km) of coast.#

I hope this gives perspective about Singapore’s 2500 tonnes of oil spilt into our waters. It’s “not bad”, as one of the ship’s captains said. Oh well.


16 Comments leave one →
  1. chris from jersey permalink
    June 3, 2010 8:32 pm

    Well, Mel….I guess it isn’t all “that bad”. After all, each spill was eventually cleaned up, and its effects were only noted for a max of several years after.

    So a couple of fish died….some beaches ruined…plenty of headlines made the papers. No big deal considering we (the human race) are still thriving on this magnificent mound of dirt which we call Earth.

    But don’t you worry about the straw that broke the camel’s back? Are you so sure that all of this drilling and removing of the Earth’s natural layer of oil will NEVER add up to a complete and utter destruction of the very place it comes from? Could it be ignorant to think that removing all of this oil will not create empty voids in the Earth thus leading to an implosion of sorts?

    Call me crazy, but it is there for a reason. Not to be tampered with. Just remember what we “learned” when we decided that acres of trees should be slash-and-burned to our benefit, as we overlooked the most necessary oxygen that we sacrificed.

    No more oil.

    Its really that simple.

    We all have to get on board with alternative sources. Look into solar panels, buy an electric car (or at least a hybrid), look for a green energy source for your homes. Its time we stick up for our Earth. It is not a right to live here, it is most definately a privelige, and one that each and every one of us has taken for granted.

  2. June 28, 2010 9:04 pm

    It’s scary to think that all these spills were not talked about on a regular basis. I hope at least now we will start paying closer attention. Hopefully the social media will give us a big push in that direction.

  3. August 30, 2010 10:23 pm

    I am trying to write an article for school at NDMS and i would like to request that you put an article about geography and let me here by say that this does not help and will you please write one about geography and how this is affecting not only the GULF,COAST but the world as we know it.–THANKS–Taylor–DORCHESTER COUNTY,MD.

  4. Bre permalink
    September 3, 2010 1:41 am

    I am a 8th grade teacher in NC and came across your site while researching some information about geography for my class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information and articles about geography.

    We would love it if you could write a few articles for us, or link to some of the current articles to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers. I have included a link to the site below in hopes you might want to link to it.

    Thanks and keep the great resources coming

    Bre Matthews

  5. October 8, 2010 1:41 pm

    Dear Bre,

    Thank you for reading up on our blog and we are pleased to note that it has been useful for you and your classes. This site is maintained by our volunteers and it would be challenging for us to do more articles. However, we would be glad if you find the articles useful and feel free to use them and quote the site as deemed fit.

    Hope this is good enough for you.

    Warm Regards.

  6. October 8, 2010 1:42 pm

    Dear Taylor,

    we understand your frustration but this site is done and managed by volunteers. We will explore your suggestion but we would not commit to it.

    Warm Regards.

  7. olivia permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:13 am

    wow thats crazy! i liked the video! I have to do an essay on the oil spill and that video helped alot. thx
    -olivia thorburn

  8. casey permalink
    December 7, 2010 5:11 pm


  9. January 14, 2011 9:03 pm

    its so sad these stupid oil spills

  10. January 14, 2011 9:06 pm

    i have a science fair and i’m doing an oil spill thing and i got o here and these pics are sooooo sad

  11. brianna permalink
    November 6, 2012 11:11 pm

    hey sup so sad 😦

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