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By Robert Rapier on Feb 9, 2010 with no responses

An Exxon Valdez Every Year

Sitting in a hotel room in Ottawa tonight, wondering if I will make that connection in Detroit tomorrow. Right now the airport there is at a standstill due to the snow.

As I mentioned in the previous essay, I have been keeping up with the energy headlines, flagging several stories for comment when I found some time. One of the stories I had flagged to comment on was one I spotted a few days ago:

Nature inadvertently produces its own oil spills

Probably when we think of oil spills, the Exxon Valdez comes to mind very quickly. It’s one of the big reasons many of us associate oil usage with pollution. Those images of oil covered birds tend to stick with us.

When I was reading Oil on the Brain, (a book I reviewed here) one of the surprising claims the author made was that drivers and boaters spill more oil every year than was spilled in the Exxon Valdez incident. Every year.

The story above breaks some of the relative numbers down. It says that the source of oil spilled in U.S. waters each year has been estimated as follows:

  • Petroleum exploration and extraction – 1% of the total
  • Spillage from ships – 3%
  • Land runoff (e.g., from vehicles, boats, and lawnmowers) – 31%
  • Natural seepage (e.g., the La Brea Tar Pits) – 61%

Personally, I think those numbers amount to a huge disconnect relative to the view most of us have on oil that ends up in our waterways. Of course that is not to downplay the impact of oil spills. The biggest issue with oil spills is that there is a large volume all at once. If you spill a few drops at the pump, you aren’t going to produce birds covered with oil.

But if those numbers are correct, the cumulative drops we all spill each year add up to about 10 times the oil that is spilled from ships. Amazing.