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Oil Pollution - We spend more and cause more damage trying to clean than leaving it to nature.

Updated on September 28, 2016


The older I get the more sceptical I am concerning events that are hyped for either monetary or political ends.

If I go back some decades, in common with most of the population, I despaired at the reported implications surrounding mineral oil pollution.

What were the terrible consequences ? Polluted, de-oxygenated oceans, dead fish, oiled dead birds, deformed and mutant sea creatures – almost the end of life as we know it.

But I started to think - who would benefit from this wide scale panic ?

Well, firstly Governments, who could then bring in ever more draconian “safety” measures to “protect us” from the evil people who supply the oil we all need. This has almost limitless money making opportunities as “we all know” it is for our own good. In addition it gives Governments the excuse to bring in even greater controls under an increasing number of pretexts

Secondly the oil companies themselves – They would be “forced” to develop even greater safety measures to transport and handle their product. The cost of which, not coming from their own profits, but from massively increased prices to the consumer.

Thirdly the oil spill clean-up companies – New expensive technology would need to be developed to deal with the pollution, the cost of which being passed to the oil companies, the insurers, the Government and finally, yes you guessed it – us the consumer.

Let’s take a specific example, on 13th November 2002 the single hulled tanker MT “Prestige” encountered a severe storm off the coast of NW Spain, which caused one of its 12 tanks to rupture. The captain called for help from the Spanish authorities asking to be allowed to enter harbour for repairs to be made but was refused. The same request was made to the French who also refused and the ship changed course limping towards Portugal. The Portuguese authorities completely over-reacted even sending a warship to force the crippled tanker away from their shoreline. Being forced back out into the storm the already weakened structure of the tanker deteriorated quickly and on 19th November she broke in two and sank releasing 20 million US gallons of oil which came ashore onto Spain’s NW coast. As usual everyone ran around like headless chickens blaming everyone else and Spain even had the audacity to arrest the Greek captain and accuse him of not co-operating with salvage crews (of which there were none) and of harming the environment.

I have little or no sympathy for the Spanish and Portuguese authorities who hounded a stricken vessel away from a safe berth, where she intended to effect repairs and unload her cargo. By forcing a mortally damaged ship into rough open waters guaranteed she would founder with predictable results. My sympathies lie with those who suffered in the short term, due to the deliberate criminal actions of the authorities, who are now wringing their hands and demanding the EU (for EU read us the inhabitants of Europe) pay for the clean-up operation. Recovering the oil that remained in the wreck of the MT Prestige cost in the region of 100 million euros and the overall cost of dealing with the wreck and subsequent clean-up operation was in the region of 2.5 billion euros and is still on-going.


With regard to the long-term situation, environmentally I believe the forecast is nowhere near as bleak as some authorities and environmentalists would have you believe.


The MT “Prestige” was a 26-year-old “Aframax” single hull tanker that should have been scrapped long ago. She was carrying 77,127 mt of heavy fuel oil, which is a high-density residue from crude oil refining. The high specific gravity of this type of fuel oil means that apart from the significant amount of oil that was emulsified and foamed by the rough sea the majority will be turned solid by the cold water and sink to the seabed. The foamed oil will be carried ashore and will need to be mechanically removed or treated with fertilisers (Eco-Bio and Dakarin) containing micro-organisms which will speed up the natural biodegradation. With regard to the oil that sinks to the seabed, this will be dealt with, naturally, by the 20/25 families of microbes that break down the short and long polymeric hydrocarbon chains into their carbon dioxide and water components. This will take a little time, normally 4/6 months, whereas the plant extracts in Dakarin can achieve the same result, on land, in 24 hours. It’s all a matter of cost. The MT Exxon Valdez spill on 24th March1989 was carrying a different kind of fuel oil into very cold water (which slows the reaction between the oil and water) – on this occasion the cost of dealing with 11 million US gallons spillage was around US$ 3 billion.

We should look at these events in proportion. In the USA people pour more used oil from their cars down the drain, in a year, than would arise from a serious tanker oil spill.

Oil naturally seeps through cracks in the ocean floor to the tune of abt. 1.5 million barrels each year. Mother Nature deals with all of this, using natural organisms and chemicals through a process known as “natural bio remediation”.

Figures are difficult to access, but best estimates suggest that about 1 million tonnes pa. are dumped in the sea, during “standard operations” (tank cleaning etc) and abt. 200,000 mt pa is spilled through accidents. Add to this abt. 250,000 mt pa through dry docking activities, we are looking at an avoidable 1,450,000 mt of pollution pa.

Nature can and does cope with these levels of spillage and nevermore was this better illustrated than during WW2 when between October 1939 and May 1945, 2401 British and allied merchant ships, totalling 12,779,000 tons were sunk in the Atlantic without the opportunity to carry out any clean-up operations. To this total should be added 452 U-boats and many allied and axis warships.

Clean-up techniques have improved but we should not forget that the greatest cause of wildlife mortality in the MT “Torry Canyon” sinking of March 1967, off the UK coast, was the use of toxic emulsifiers in shoreline cleaning. Many of the cleaning compounds used today are useful in localised applications, but contain biocides that interfere with the natural bio remediation.

Authorities are always quick to jump on the bandwagon of over-reacting to even the smallest of spills. 7 years ago a chartered tanker carry one of the bio renewable fuel oils I had developed for power station use, collided with our loading pipeline in Savannah GA just prior to its trans-Atlantic voyage to the UK. It was relatively minor damage but it did spill several hundred tonnes of cargo which caused a large slick and coated several small islands. The American authorities went berserk phoning me at home threatening everything from multi-billion dollar law suits to a good old fashioned lynching. I assured them that inside 14 days it will have biodegraded to nothing – just use booms to stop it spreading and clean any affected wildlife with gentle baby shampoo. You could almost hear the disbelief across 3500 miles of ocean, but to their credit that is exactly what they did. No extensive spraying of toxic detergents, no unnecessary scrubbing of birds and animals with aggressive detergents, just booms and patience. Twelve days later I spoke with the same guy, it had all gone, no pollution, no evidence that it had even happened.

I think the moral here is – bio renewable oil is great but will never replace mineral hydrocarbon oil (not even remotely close).

When it comes to conventional mineral oils this over-reaction and spending of billions and billions of pounds/euros/dollars would be better spent on ensuring our transport and handling systems are adequate and taking a much more proactive approach (no profit for anyone in this) rather than a reactive remedy (lots of money to be made here).




© 2012 Peter Geekie

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    • Peter Geekie profile image
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      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear pramodgokhale

      Thank you for your comments they are much appreciated.

      There are alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels but in most instances the cost will prevent them being used. Instead we waste money on wind farms instead of refining the techniques of cold fusion, oil from algae, and tidal power.

      Again it is all down to money.

      Kind regards Peter

    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 5 years ago from Pune( India)

      You are doyen of science and technology, hub is very informative .Sincere appeal to global communities to save earth from oil pollution.

      We can reduce oil consumption, utilization of electrical energy for transport instead petrol would of great help and avoid accidents of oil spills from ships carrying oil .

      No replacement available for Hydrocarbons, it is true so try for lowering consumption of Hydrocarbons

      pramod gokhale

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      My Dear Yoginjoy

      Thank you for your comment - as a scientist I have long since realised that I am just a beginner compared to Mother Nature. I just try to learn from her in so many ways.

      Kind regards Peter

    • yoginijoy profile image

      yoginijoy 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Great explanation of how much smarter Nature is than us! --within the context of an oil spill. Voting up and interesting. Thanks for explaining the different types of oil. that is important for folks to know.