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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

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.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.