Oil Disasters Through History: Second 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.Amoco Cadiz, 1978 Stormy weather and a failure in the steering mechanism led to the unfortunate and disastrous grounding of the Amoco Cadiz tanker on the Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany, on March 16, 1978. The vessel had been carrying 1,619,048 barrels of oil from the Arabian Gulf to Le Havre, France. After the grounding, a slick, spanning an area 80 miles long and 18 miles wide polluted almost 200 miles of Breton coastline covering 76 beaches.In obeying the Polmar Plan, the French Navy was responsible for all offshore clean-up operations and the French Civil Safety Service took over all land clean up. Just as the French did in 1967, they again utilized oleophilic chalk in an attempt to soak up the oil and prevent it from hitting the beaches. This method was briefly successful until, after a month, the oil became too viscous and was impenetrable by the chalk. The French also employed diluted and concentrated dispersants, mainly BP 1100 X, Finasol and OSR, yet received the same ineffective outcome as with the chalk, due to the thickness of the oil in most places. In the sheltered Bay of Morlaix, the navy was able to successfully use 2.5 miles of boom, keeping the bay oil free. In other areas, where the currents were stronger and larger quantities of oil were present, the boom was unsuccessful. Issues also arose in using the skimmers due to an excess amount of seaweed blocking the pumps and hoses. On land, marshes, sand beaches, rocky shores, piers and developed land and tidal mudflats were all affected. Stranded oily seaweed was manually collected using rakes and trucks. Ocean waves helped to naturally clear the sand of oil, while pressure washing was used to clear the dry, rocky shores. In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz oil spill marked the largest loss of marine life ever to have occurred due to an oil spill. The highest mortalities took place during the two-week period following the oil spill; millions of dead mollusks, sea urchins, and other benthic organisms were collected, as well as approximately 9,000 tons of dead oysters. Most species of clams, crustaceans and the heart urchin were completely wiped out. Some scientists have stated that the photooxidation products of the oil may be more deadly than the oil itself and may be the leading cause of the massive kill of the sediment dwellers.Many of the fish that were observed post-spill suffered from skin ulcerations and tumors and the meat tasted strongly of petroleum. Over 20,000 birds were also reported dead due to the oil slick. Some of the recorded mortalities were also caused by human impact during clean-up operations on the coast. Pressure washing and careless human presence on the natural ecosystems caused many negative ramifications. Above Photo: NOAA, Incident News, Aerial view of oil, Brittany, France, March 1978

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