Oil Disasters Through History: Eighth of Ten

In the days leading up to the 6th month anniversary of the BP deepwater drilling disaster, GRN is highlighting nine previous oil disasters, to give historic context to what the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing, and will experience for years to come.Sea Empress, 1996 On February 15, 1996 in Milford Haven, Wales, the supertanker Sea Empress ran aground less than one kilometer from shore. Over the next seven-day period, 72,000 tons of crude oil was released into the water, creating a 25-mile oil slick. From the oil released, 3,700 to 5,300 tons contaminated over 200 km of shore. Due to high winds, mechanical recovery of the oil was ineffective, only removing one to two percent of the oil. Instead, 17,000 tons of chemical dispersants were distributed throughout the oil slick. A policy was adopted that ceased the use of dispersants within one kilometer of the shoreline due to its negative impact on marine life especially in shallow water.Due to the oil, many fisheries were closed and some research was able to occur in regards to the oil impact. Similar to the Gulf of Mexico, the south of Wales holds a variety of fish including fin fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. All fisheries within a 2,100 km2 area were closed including the salmon and trout fisheries in the nearby rivers. Within three months, all fin fish fisheries were re-opened and by eight months the crustaceans and whelks could be harvested. There were no severe commercial fish mortalities recorded. Seaweeds and mussels were not legally harvested until June and September of 1997, respectively. As seen with other oil spills, mollusks, being filter feeders, are more impacted by the oil and are at higher risk of severe bioaccumulation issues. Also, similar to the Ixtoc I and Persian Gulf spills, the salt marsh affected by the oil spill is still experiencing continued die back and currently shows no signs of recovery.

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