Large oil spills, such as Deepwater Horizon
in 2010, make media headlines and provoke a discussion about the impact on the ocean and marine life. Such events seem relatively uncommon. However, there are many oil spills that occur into the world's oceans each year, although few of these make the news headlines because they are classed as 'minor spills'. The official definition of a 'major' and 'minor' oil spill is based on the tonnage of oil that constitutes the oil slick.
New research, reported by Scientific American
, suggests that many of the so-termed 'minor spills' are actually larger than official estimates state (as well as by the companies whose ships are responsible for spilling oil into sea water). This is according to a study presented at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference
in New Orleans, Louisiana,
The new research is the result of a combination project between oceanographers at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee and researchers at a West Virginia-based non-profit organization called SkyTruth. The researchers used satellite images of the Gulf to estimate the approximate area of oil slicks visible on the water’s surface. These images were compared with the official reports compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center
in Washington. The National Response Center (NRC) is the sole U.S. Government point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment anywhere in the United States and its territories.
The study indicated that official reports of oil slicks were typically 13 times smaller than the analysis of satellite images suggested.
According to the journal Nature
, the findings have been challenged by an industry group called the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API
is the largest U.S trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. It represents about 400 corporations involved in production, refinement, distribution, and many other aspects of the petroleum industry.
Further research into this area will be interesting and it could change the perspective on some of the so-called 'minor spills'.