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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

 

Victoria Selska

The impact of oil extraction and transport on the marine environment

Victoria Selska

 The impact of oil extraction and transport on the marine environment 

 

The objective of my thesis is an examination of the marine policy for the prevention
of the oil spills in the marine environment, and the preparedness, response and
cooperation between the international and US regimes. The US regime arose after the
Exxon Valdez incident in 1989 known as Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) whereas
the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) regime followed the Torrey Canyon
incident in 1967.


During the last few decades of the 20th century, the pollution of the world's ocean has
become a matter of increasing international concern. However, the impact of oil spills
is as harmful today as they were thirty years ago. The greater difference is that the
environmental awareness among the general public has been increased, and that
dramatic media coverage magnifies environmental, social and economic
consequences.


Accidental or deliberate, operational discharges and spills of oil from ships, especially
tankers, offshore platforms and pipelines, is the most obvious and visible cause of oil
pollution of the marine environment. Even though most of the oil spills do not
originate from tankers, tanker accidents have accounted for most of the world largest
oil spills. They are less frequent than other kinds of oil spills, such as pipeline breaks,
but typically involve large volumes of spilled oil relative to other kinds of oil spills.
Tanker accidents have been the cause of most of the very largest oil spills. According
to the National Research Council, even though the new safety standards and advances
in technology reduced the amount of oil that spilled during extraction and transport in
the last two decades, the potential is still there for a large spill, particularly in areas
without stringent safety procedures and inspections.


The continued dependence on oil imports of the US, the UK, Russia and many other
countries has resulted in increasing transport of oil in tankers. This could increase the
potential for future catastrophic oil spills and the need to prevent such pollution and
minimise its damage. Insufficient or defective oil tanker inspection policies result in
the increased likelihood of causing marine pollution. Oil spills such as those caused
by the Exxon Valdez (1989), Braer (1993), Torrey Canyon (1967), Sea Empress
(1996) and more recently the Prestige (2002) show the importance of reviewing the
inspection and monitoring processes for such vessels especially in the areas of highest
sensitivity.
Therefore, closer co-operation between the US and IMO countries or a unified
international regime would help many governments, shipping, insurance and the oil
industries to direct their energies towards a better management in prevention, cleaning
up oil spills and compensating damages from the oil spills.