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In the aftermath of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform, which is now estimated to be leaking 5,000 barrels of crude each day, many are fearing the worst in terms of the potential environmental and economic impact. But how does this spill stack up to the biggest oil disasters in history?
To get a sense, CNBC.com reviewed data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Mariner Group, an oil spill response firm, to get a sense of which oil disasters have been the worst, by volume of oil spilled.
To get a scope on the economic impact, we calculated the 2010 cost of the oil spilled at the current cost of light, sweet crude at $85 per barrel. However, this does not take into account the cost of cleanup efforts, ecological impact and loss of equipment, which could add millions -- or even billions -- to the cost.
So, what are the worst oil disasters in history? Click ahead to find out!
By Paul Toscano
Posted 29 April 2010
Oil Spilled: 1 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $85 million
In April 1991, the M/T Haven suffered a devastating explosion that caused the ship to eventually break in two and sink after three days. The explosion occurred when the ship was unloading fuel into an offshore loading platform near Genoa, Italy, when a routine transfer procedure caused an explosion that caused flames more than 100 meters high and killed six crew members.
Officials estimated that most of the oil burned off, but about 290,000 barrels leaked into the ocean, affecting the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France for the next decade
Oil Spilled: 1.02 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $86.7 million
In November 1988, the American-owned Odyssey drilling rig dumped more than 1 million barrels of crude oil after an explosion 700 miles off Canada's east coast, although most of the oil burned off before salvage and containment efforts could mobilize.
Oil Spilled: 1.6 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $136 million
In March 1978, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground after its rudder was damaged in a winter storm, and although crews were alerted to the impending disaster, they were unable to halt the ship. According to the Mariner Group, the ship spilled 1.6 million barrels of crude oil near Portsall, France and the resulting slick eventually affected 125 miles of coastline.
Oil Spilled: 1.8 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $153 million
The Spanish tanker Castillo de Bellver caught fire and eventually suffered a devastating explosion, which resulted in a spill of more than 1.8 million barrels 70 miles off the coast of South Africa in August 1983. Although the coastline was in serious danger following the spill, a shift in winds pushed the oil offshore and, according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF), the "environmental effects were minimal." Inevitably, however, many marine animals were still affected.
Oil Spilled: 1.9 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $161.5 million
On February 10 1983, an oil tanker collided with the Nowruz platform, causing the platform to tilt to a 45 degree angle. Eventually, wave action and corrosion ate away at the platform's crippled support structure, causing internal collapse that leaked oil at 1,500 barrels per day.
Located in the Persian Gulf near the shores of Iran, the oil spill could not be capped or contained because it was located in the middle of an Iran/Iraq war zone. The platform was eventually attacked by Iraqi planes and the oil slick caught fire. The leak was eventually capped in September, 1983.
Oil Spilled: 1.92 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $163.2 million
The Liberian supertanker ABT Summer suffered an explosion 900 miles off the coast of Angola in May 1991, resulting in an oil slick that spanned more than 17 nautical miles. The disaster killed five crew members on board after the ship burnt for three days prior to sinking, according to the ITOPF.
Oil Spilled: 2.095 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $178 million
Although not highly publicized at the time, the March 1992 oil spill in Fergana Valley caused a loss of more than 2 million barrels of crude oil. Although the economic significance of the area is mostly based in agriculture, the area has been producing oil since 1908 and it continues to be one of the most active energy and oil refining centers in Uzbekistan. The US Department of Energy estimates that prior to the spill there was about 4.5 billion barrels of oil in the Fergana basin.
Oil Spilled: 2.2 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $187 million
In July 1979, about 2.2 million barrels of crude oil spilled after two ships, the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain, collided during a tropical storm of the island of Tobago. Although it took less than a month for crews to recover the ships, the Atlantic Empress continued to leak oil, even as it was being towed away from the site of the original collision. It eventually sank on August 3.
Oil Spilled: 3.34 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $283.9 million
The Ixotoc 1 was an exploratory oil well located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 600 miles off the coast of Texas. The rig, owned by the Mexican oil company Pemex, suffered a "blowout," which resulted from a pressure imbalance. The disaster caused about 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of crude per day to spill from June 3 to March 23 of the next year.
The US government took two months to contain the spill and was able to protect major inlets. Pemex is owned by the Mexican Government, has refused US requests to pay damages to compensate for the clean-up costs.
Oil Spilled: 5.7 million barrels
Cost in 2010: $484.5 million
In the largest oil spill of all-time, the Kuwaiti oil spill during the Gulf War is estimated to be almost twice the size of the Ixotoc disaster. The spill came as a result of the invading Iraqi army intentionally opening oil pipelines and dumping crude from tankers, in order to deter US forces from landing in Kuwait via the Persian Gulf.
To stop the spill of oil, American airstrikes destroyed pipelines in order to prevent further spillage. However, a multinational study on the spill suggests that there was little long-term damage, with about 1 million barrels recovered and as much as 3 million barrels washing on shore in Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps one of the most memborable oil spills in history, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 was certainly large - with about 257,000 barrels of crude lost - but it is only a fraction of the size, by volume, of the biggest spills in history. Despite the relatively small volume compared with the biggest oil spills, the Valdez disaster seriously affected the area's ecology.
The spill covered about 1,300 square miles after the Valdez struck a reef and began leaking oil into Prince William Sound, an extremely remote area that is generally only accessible by helicopter or seaplane.
The cleanup effort was also hampered by the area's calm waters, which couldn't mix the oil dispersant chemicals to break down the oil. Other clean-up efforts had unintended negative effects on the region, such as the destruction of microorganisms. About 26,000 gallons are estimated to remain on the Alaskan shores as a result of the Valdez disaster.
There was also the loss of animal and marine life in the area. It is estimated that more than 250,000 seabirds, as well as thousands of other animals died as a result of the spill.