Saturday, November 23, 2002

The oil spill off Galicia is out of control. The coast between Corrubedo to the south and Cariño to the north, including two protected natural areas, has been polluted already and it looks like the oil is moving north, which is good for the marine life in South Galicia's Rias Baixas and for Portugal but has the French worried. The government is not well prepared, as they don't have enough contention barriers or cleanup boats, and they're getting smacked around some politically. About 6000 tons of oil was spilled in the first leak and 5000 tons more escaped when the tanker Prestige sank. There are 70,000 tons more of oil within the tanker 10,000 feet down; they're now saying that oil will solidify. Let's hope so because if that stuff gets out the "black tide" will suddenly be seven times worse. Meanwhile, the price of percebes has doubled in the Madrid markets.

The Vanguardia has a table of the fifteen worst oil spills of all time; this one so far, with 11,000 tons, is comparatively still very small. Even if all the oil in the sunken tanker gets out, this one would probably place about 25th in history. The biggest spill of all time was 1991 when the Iraqis sabotaged the Kuwaiti oilfields and dumped 800,000 tons of crude into the Persion Gulf, and the second was 1979 in the Gulf of Mexico when those Mexican oil rigs blew out and spilled 450,000 tons. The biggest tanker spill ever was number three on the all-time list when the tanker Atlantic spilled 280,000 tons into the Caribbean in 1979. What I found interesting was that none of these top 15 spills have happened since 1991. The Vanguardia's reporter, Antonio Cerrillo, who has done his research, says that after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, which was not among the top 15, by the way, the Americans passed laws prohibiting single-hulled tankers from docking at American ports and establishing that tanker owners must contract an unlimited-liability insurance policy, to pay off in case of accident. This means that if you want to do business with the Yanks, you have to play by their rules, and their rules have done a lot to reduce oil spills. It's not the American government on your ass to keep things safe: it's the insurance companies, and they're a lot meaner and tougher than Uncle Sam because it's their asses on the line if you screw up. In contrast, EU laws on the subject have not even gone into effect yet and contain a limit on the liability of the tanker owner. The single-hulled Prestige would not have been allowed to carry oil to the US and no American company would have insured it. Score one environmental point for the US. Greenpeace is complaining that the strict American laws concentrate the less safe tankers in Europe.

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