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OIL SPILLS

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RESEARCH PAPER NUMBER: X7

RESEARCH PAPER MNEMONIC: XOILSPILL

RESEARCH PAPER NAME: Oil, Environment and Trade

DRAFT AUTHOR: Jeff Lynch


I. Abstract

Over the past seven years, their has been five major oil spills: Exxon Valdez (Alaska), Kuwait (Persian Gulf War), Komi (Russia), Braer (Shetland Islands), and Sea Empress (Wales). When they occurred, each spill, for different reasons, was proclaimed as the most environmentally deleterious. However, a majority of these spills (Komi, Braer, and Sea Empress) were mollified by weather conditions; as a result, their ecological destruction was both restricted and tempered. Of these five, four (Exxon Valdez--1989, Braer--1993, Komi--1994, and Sea Empress--1996) share a commonality: they either resulted from poorly trained personnel, incompetence, or antiquated equipment. Alas, it is because of the prevalence of these catalysts that statutes must be passed which prevent them from occurring in the future.

II. Issue Background

Oil spills often have deleterious effects on the eco-system. In the past decade, they seem to have occurred with greater frequency.

With the development of emerging European markets and "the south," comes a higher demand for petrol. To meet this demand, oil companies are having to ship more oil at greater distances. However, to cut costs and increase profit margins, oil companies are taking cost saving measures --oftentimes ill fated ones--to transport the oil.

Generally, companies in developed nations ship their oil with vessels registered in developing nations to avoid onerous taxes. Notwithstanding, the vessels and crews of developing nations are (more often than not) old and poorly trained. Consequently, these factors are the leading causes of spills on the high seas. Unlike developed nations, spills in developing nations are more likely due to ineptness and a lack of capital. Lacking the forethought, of the environmental harm spills cause, emerging markets continue to nonchalantly have them; lacking the capital to repair antiquated equipment, they continue to pump oil through obsolescent machinery.

Therefore it can be extrapolated that the leading causes of spills are poorly trained personnel, ineptness, and obsolescent equipment.

III. Relevant TED Cases

A. Case Listings and Brief Descriptions

  1. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

    Just after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez (a single- hull oil tanker) hit Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Ocean. On board the ship was Captain Joseph Hazelwood, a harbor pilot, and third mate Gregory Cousins. Once the harbor pilot had safely guided the huge vessel through the Valdez Narrows and past Rocky Point, he relinquished control of the tanker to Captain Hazelwood. Although the weather made it possible to traverse the sound, some small icebergs (growlers) drifted into it from the Columbia Glacier. Subsequently, Captain Hazelwood radioed the Coast Guard, notifying them that in order to avoid the growlers he would be changing course. Upon notification, the Coast Guard granted Captain Hazelwood permission to move into the northbound lane. Before retiring to his cabin, Captain Hazelwood instructed his third mate Gregory Cousins to steer the vessel back into the southbound lane once it passed Busby Island. Although Cousins did give the instructions to the helmsman to steer the vessel to the right, the vessel was not turning sharply enough and at 12:04 a.m. the vessel hit Bligh Reef. It is not known whether Cousins gave the orders too late, the helmsman failed to follow instructions properly, or if something was wrong with the vessel's steering system.

    Nonetheless, the collision's impact was so forceful that it ripped through the Valdez's cargo tanks, spilling tons of oil into the sound. Hazelwood, in struggling to get the vessel loose from the reef, failed to promptly contact the Coast Guard; it was not until twenty minutes after the collision that the Coast Guard was contacted. Two hours after the collision, Captain Hazelwood ceased his attempts at maneuvering the vessel. Alas, over 11 million gallons of oil spilled into the Prince William Sound--creating the worst oil spill in American history. The menacing slick eventually drifted 500 miles, covering 10,000 square miles and contaminating 1,500 miles of shoreline.

    EXXON case

  2. Braer (Shetland) Oil Spill

    On January 5, 1993, the Liberian registered and U.S. owned oil tanker Braer ran aground off the southern tip of the Shetlands, when its engines became flooded with seawater. On January 12, the tanker proceeded to break up into three sections, after it was continually thrown against the rocks of the island. The entire cargo (85,000 tons of light crude oil) spilled into the North Sea at the southern end of Shetlands' nexus. Due to choppy seas and high winds (reaching 100 m.p.h.), none of the oil could be recovered. Nonetheless, the choppy seas tempered the spill's deleterious effects. According to one report "around 30 percent of the oil [was]. . . deposited in the sediments of two basins, where it slowly broke down." Originally, it appeared as if the oil spill's damage would be on par with the '89 Valdez spill. In the end, however, the spill--albeit the twelfth largest on record--was relatively harmless.

    A critical factor which may have played a role in this catastrophe is the fact that the crew lacked a common first language. The oil tanker's "company" consisted of Polish maintenance workers, Filipino crew, and Greek and Filipino officers. In addition to lacking a common first language, crew members were not fluent in English.

    SHETLAND case

  3. Komi Oil Spill

    The oil spill in Russia's Komi republic was the third largest spill. "One of the main reasons for its size was because of the strain placed upon its antiquated infrastructure:" a 20 year-old pipeline. The party responsible for the pipelines maintenance, Komineft Co., has a prior record of negligible maintenance. More often than not, Komineft's pipelines are covered in rust and corrosion.

    In September 1994, spilled oil was being stored behind an "earth dam"; these dams are often constructed to contain oil. Heavy rains in October broke the dike and allowed a large lake of oil to ooze over the tundra. Much of the oil Komineft spilled, flowed into the Kolva and Usa rivers. Fortunately, the cold winter months contained the spill to 72 sq. miles of tundra and marshlands. Nevertheless, at low temperatures, oil tends to persist for long periods of time because of the low rates of evaporation. Subsequently, the frozen ground prevents the oil from seeping in, and this makes it travel for long distances, disturbing the thin layer of vegetation covering the frozen soil.

    As harmful to Russia's eco-system, as the initial spill, is part of its clean-up process. As part of the process, crews set ablaze pools of oil, in order to prevent it from spreading. However, in doing so, the burning oil--not unlike that found in Kuwait (See Kuwait Case)--poses long term environmental risks.

    Since 1986, Komineft has been involved in five major accidents. In 1988, 20,000 tons of oil leaked when a pipeline burst. In 1992, two incidents caused almost 30,000 tones of oil to leak into the Pechora, Kolva and Ussa rivers. A lack of vigilance by Komineft has irreparably harmed Russia's eco-system. Thus far, the expansion of Russia's energy sector by companies like Komineft has occurred recklessly, without regard to Russia's eco-system.

    KOMI case

  4. Sea Empress (Welsh) Oil Spill

    On February 15, 1996, the Spanish built, Norwegian owned, Cypriot registered, Glasgow managed, French chartered, Russian crewed, and Liberian flagged ship (The Sea Empress) struck the Milford Channel Rock in Milford Haven harbor, Wales. As a result, nearly half the ship's cargo--70,000 tons of light crude oil-- spilled into the Irish Sea. On that dark and ominous night, the pilot attempted to steer to the west of the Mid-Channel Rock, which lay in the Middle of the harbor. When a strong eastward tugging tide arose, he had to change the 147,000 ton vessel's course to port (the left). However, despite his maneuvering, the single hulled ship failed to miss the Mid-Channel Rock.

    Prior to the collision, the captain and pilot had not discussed or agreed upon a plan for their approach. However, evidence shows that, unlike the Braer oil spill, there appears to have been no communication problems between the pilot, the ship's captain, the chief officer, and the helmsman: they all spoke Russian. Even though communication between crew members appears to have not been a problem, a definite communication problem existed between crew members and port officials--the Russians were not fluent in English.

    David Rodger, Acourmarit's group personnel and training manager, points out "English is the language of the sea and new safety management codes require effective communication." Because most seafaring ships and port officials speak English, "all managers and owners of deep sea vessels must take English language training and the ability to communicate with a ship very seriously": its questionable if the Sea Empress did.

    WALES case

B. Comparison and Contrast

The Valdez, Braer, Komi, and Sea Empress spills share a commonality: they were either caused by poorly trained personnel, incompetence, or antiquated equipment.

1. Poorly Trained Personnel

The Sea Empress and Braer spills involved poorly trained staff: both crews lacked a common first language and the ability to articulate in English. Communication difficulties played an important roles in both catastrophe--the Sea Empress between its crew and port officials and the Braer between its crew members. Communication problems on the high seas exposes one of the multitudinous complications that arises when using flags-of- convenience. Under flags-of-convenience, crews are often multinational, however, they are not necessarily from the registry country; frequently, the captain and first mate will not share the same language, e.g., the Shetland case. Such problems, combined with badly or untrained crews and cost-cutting on the part of the ship-owner, can and do lead to disasters.

The Crews often come from developing nations such as Ghana and the Philippines, and are frequently badly treated and poorly paid. "The policy of employing cheap crews often compromises safety to an unacceptable level." Seafarers often go to employment agencies to find crews. However, these agencies often register people who are not seaworthy. Ergo, ships flying under flags-of-convenience, often employ crews that are not sufficiently trained. In addition to the questionable nature of employment agencies, ships flying under flags of Panama, the Bahamas, and Liberia are often found by inspectors to be unsafe--the Braer and Sea Empress were Liberian registered.

2. Incompetence

The Exxon Valdez and Komi spills were both caused by and propagated by incompetence. Incompetence led to poor communication (Valdez) and horrific safety standards (Komi).

It is not known whether the Valdez Crash was caused by third mate Gregory Cousins giving the orders, to turn right, too late, or the helmsman failing to follow instructions properly. The occurrence of either of these two scenarios would mean the crash was caused by incompetence. However, if the crash, instead, was caused by a problem with the steering mechanism, it would not be due to incompetence. Nonetheless, in regards to the size of the spill, incompetence propagated it. Hazelwood, in struggling to get the vessel loose from the reef, failed to promptly contact the Coast Guard; it was not until twenty minutes after the collision that the Coast Guard was contacted. Two hours after the collision, Captain Hazelwood ceased his attempts at maneuvering the vessel. In hindsight, it can be said that if Captain Hazelwood contacted the Coast Guard more promptly and expeditiously freed the Valdez from the reef that the oil spill would have been contained and mollified.

On the other hand, the Komi spill resulted from poor safety standards. In this spill, Komineft Co. failed to properly care for its pipelines. If Komineft was vigilant enough to see that its behavior would eventually lead to a spill, the disaster could have been averted. Be that as it may, Komineft company has had a great contempt for safety. Underscoring this contempt is the fact that they have, since 1989, been involved in five spills.

3. Antiquated Equipment

The Exxon Valdez, Braer, and Sea Empress were single-hulled ships. After the Valdez spill, shipping companies switched to double-hulled ships. Although occurring long after the Valdez spill, both the Braer and Sea Empress were single hulled; the fact they were single hulled contributed to their spills. If the Braer and Sea Empress had been double-hulled, the obtrusions they stroke would have had to penetrate through two layers of steel, rather than one. Plausibly, this would have mitigated or averted the tragedies.

The reason the ships were single, rather than double-hulled, was because of flags-of-convenience. Many of the ships registered in developing countries under flags-of-convenience are elderly, ergo, single-hulled. According to the 1995 figures from the Panamanian Flag Agency, 3,323 vessels both in service and flying Panama's flag were more than 30 years old. Additionally, it has been determined that flags-of-convenience ships are twice as likely to sink, due to age and disrepair, than those operated under the national flag of the owner.

Along with the Braer and Sea Empress spills, the Komi spill both resulted and was propagated from obsolescent equipment. The spill happened because Komineft used an antiquated infrastructure: a 20 year-old pipeline. Even though leaks in the pipeline persisted, Komineft continued to use it--"band-aiding" it until it eventually ruptured.

IV. Policy Implications

In retrospect, all these spills could have been averted or mollified, if appropriate "safety measures" had been taken. The Komi spill could have been avoided with greater Duma vigilance of Russia's nascent energy sector. The Valdez, Braer, and Sea Empress spills could have been averted or mitigated through the use of double-hulled tankers and improved communication between crew and port officials.

In the future, to avoid similar maritime tragedies, both national and international laws must be created and codified that place more austere restraints on flags-of convenience. Currently, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations- funded body, is working on legislation introducing a mandatory and univers al training program for crews and regional safety inspectorates. Such legislation, if implemented, would rectify difficulties existing with communication and lax restraints. Nonetheless, such a statute would avoid reconciling the flags-of- convenience's most vexing issue: the use of obsolescent (single-hulled) tankers. To thwart the continued use of single-hulled tankers, countries contiguous to international waters must implementlegislation requiring tankers docking in their ports or passing through their territorial waters to be double-hulled.

In regards to the Komi spill, Russia's Duma (as other fledgling democracies) should expand its laws regulating industries; industries should be placed under a microscope of scrutiny. With greater scrutiny, such tragedies would be averted in the future.

V. Further Information

A. Bibliography

Albrecht, Jorg "Environmental Nightmares-Russia's Total Mess" World Press Review (February 1995).

"An Assessment of the Impact of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on The Alaska Tourism Industry," prepared for Preston, Thorgrimson,

Berry, Brendan, "Oil Spill Beaches Face Easter Tourist Test," Press Association Limited, April 5, 1996.

______, "Green Groups in Mass Demands for Tanker Inquiry," AP News file, March 8, 1996.

Bischel, Amanda, "Russian Oil Spill Leaves Stain on Economic Reform Efforts" Christian Science Monitor (November 1994).

"Braer Crude Oil Tanker Splits as Weather Hinders Containment." Oil & Gas Journal, 18 January 1993.

Carr, Terry, Spill! The Story of the Exxon Valdez, New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.

Davidson, Art, In The Wake of the Exxon Valdez, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

"A Disaster That Wasn't." New Scientist, January 1994.

Dyrynda, P.E.J. and Symberlist, R.C., "Should We Wash our Hands of Oil Spill Birds," Associated Newspaper Ltd.

Efron, Sonny, "Russian Tundra- a Vast Study in Slime" The Toronto Star (May 1995).

"Environmental Group Says Second Spill Found In Area Damaged Two Months Earlier," International Environmental Reporter, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 16 November 1994, p. 933.

Epstein, Lois and Scott Hajost "Leaky Oil Pipelines Need Closer Mention" Christian Science Monitor (November 1994).

FYI Information Resources, "Environmental Technologies in the Energy Sector" Market Reports (March 1995).

Friends of the Earth Homepage.

"Hovercraft Used on Bird Rescue Operation," Press Association Newsfile, 8 January 1994.

"Hundreds of Dead Birds Killed by Oil Pollution," Glascow Herald, 24 January 1994, p. 7.

"Islands Council Calls for Public Inquiry Into the Braer Disaster," Scotsman, 22 January 1994, p. 4.

Karey, Gerald. "Sakhalin Accord Hailed As Gateway," Platt's Oilgram News, 24 June 1994, p. 1.

Keeble, John, Out Of The Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

"Large Amount of International Aid For Russia Targets Energy Sector," Russia and Commonwealth Business Law Report, 3 May 1993, vol. 4.

Lemonick, Michael, "The Rivers Ran Black" Time (November 1994) and Rosett, Claudia "Big Oil-Pipeline Spill in Russia May Be a Sign of Things to Come" Wall Street Journal (October 1994).

"Lucky Braer Escape Leaves No Room for Complacency," Lloyds List, 4 January 1994.

Lyall, Sarah, "West Wales Recovering From Huge Oil Spill," New York Times, June 2, 1996.

Mattingly, David, "Too Early to Gauge Spill's Damage to Welsh Coast," CNN, February 21, 1996.

MacLeod, Alexander, "Britain Mired by Flak After a Giant Oil Spill," The Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 1996: p. 6.

"Measuring Damage," Lloyd's List, 17 January 1994.

Mitchell, John and Martin, Alan, "Flags of Convince Signal Safety Alert," Gemini News Service, 1996.

Odling-Smee, John et al., IMF Economic Review-Russian Federation 1993, Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 1993.

O'Halloran, Marie, "Tanker owners face Pounds 100,000 claim," The Irish Times, April 19, 1996.

"Over 4 Million Gallons of Oil Leaked In Area Around Russia's Arctic Region," International Environmental Reporter, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 2 November 1994, p. 881.

"Russia: Legacy of Neglect Leads To Massive Costs For Komineft," Petroleum Economist, 31 December 1994, p. 18.

Shapiro, Margaret, "Magnitude of Pipeline Spill in Russia Emerges with Spring's Thaw" International Herald Tribune (May 1995).

"Shetland Councillors Consider Court Action," Scotsman, 21 January 1994, p. 1.

"Shetland Oil Spill Did Little Harm." New Scientist, 26 June 1993.

Shidler, Gates, and Ellis, prepared by the McDowell Group, August, 1990.

"Sir Hector Comments on Braer Reports," UK Government Press Releases, 20 January 1994.

"The Tainted Isles Come Clean," Scotsman, 5 January 1994, p. 8.

"Tanker Spills Norwegian Crude Off Shetlands." Oil & Gas Journal, 11 January 1993.

Tiwari, Rajiv, "Lure of Black Gold Behind Russian Arctic Spill" Inter Press Service (October 1994).

Upperton, Jane. "Russia Still Downplaying Spill's Impact" Platt's Oilgram News, 72 (October 27, 1994), p. 4.

Victor, Peter, Newspaper Publishing PC, March 6, 1996.

Wheeler, David, "Tanker Spill Off of Coast of Wales has Killed 2,200 Birds," Reuters World Service, March 6, 1996.

"White Sees Work On Law In Russia Having Stalled," Platt's Oilgram News, 7 November 1994, p. 5.

Wills, Jonathan, "Sea Empress Spill Is Bigger than Exxon Valdez," Shetland News-Feature, February 21, 1996.

______, "Tanker's Russian Crew Were to Have English Lessons," Shetland News-Feature, February 20, 1996.

"World Bank To Provide $120 Million Loan For Cleanup Of Major Pipeline Spill In North," International Environmental Reporter.

"The Wreck of the Braer." Economist, 9 January 1993.

Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

B. Web Sites

Exxon Valdez Spill

The Braer Coverage of Beaches

Russian Oil Cleanup

< img src=../../images/liberia.gif height=40 width=40> Sea Empress Spill

Oil Public Information Center


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