Another drop in the bucket

Based on media coverage alone, one might think the only significant oil spills in the past couple of decades were the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil execs from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips tried to convince Congress and an international public earlier this month that it could never happen with them. But a revisit of just a handful of oil spills in the United States alone shows that while oil spills may not always take on the grand proportions of a Deepwater Horizon, they are hardly rare. A glance at a few from the past 10 years:

November 2000: A tanker spilled 567,000 gallons of crude oil into the Mississippi River, the biggest spill in U.S. waters since Exxon Valdez.

April 2002: A 90,000-gallon crude oil spill off the southeast Louisiana coast.

December 2004: Roughly 480,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled from a Malaysian freighter that snapped in two into water off Unalaska Island, jeopardizing the Aleutian islands’ ecosystem.

September 2005: By this time, more than 6.5 million gallons of crude oil had been spilt following Hurricane Katrina.

March 2006: 200,000 gallons of crude oil leaked on Alaska’s North Slope from a corroded transmission line operated by BP Exploration Alaska.

July 2008: A fuel barge and a tanker collided, spilling more than 400,000 gallons of fuel oil, forcing the temporary closure of 98 miles of the Mississippi River.

April 2010: Deepwater Horizon. Estimated to be spilling 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons of crude oil per day. Pretty sure you’ve heard of that one.

For many more examples of oil spills, visit

USA Today reported this month that “the number of spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines in U.S. water more than quadrupled this decade,” even considering increases in production. There were about four spills per year of at least 50 barrels (one barrel is 42 gallons) from the 1970s to 1990s. That went up to more than 17 from 2000 to 2009. And in 2005-2009, there was an average of 22 spills per year. The company with the most spills during the 2000s is BP, followed by Shell.