Oil Spills Without Borders

Cleaning the sea of oil? Yep. The Gulf of Mexico? Nope. Try the Yellow Sea, China. Following a huge explosion at an oil terminal in north east China, hundreds of thousands of gallons of the black goo spilled into the sea. At first played down by the authorities, it now has a more memorable size.

China oil spill estimated to top Exxon Valdez

China’s worst known oil spill is dozens of times larger than the government has reported – bigger than the famous Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago – and some of the oil was dumped deliberately to avoid further disaster, an American expert said Friday.

China’s government has said 1,500 tons (461,790 gallons) of oil spilled after a pipeline exploded two weeks ago near the northeastern city of Dalian, sending 100-foot-high flames raging for hours near one of the country’s key strategic oil reserves. Such public estimates stopped within a few days of the spill.

But Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine conservation specialist, estimated 60,000 tons (18.47 million gallons) to 90,000 tons (27.70 million gallons) of oil actually spilled into the Yellow Sea.

“It’s enormous. That’s at least as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster” in Alaska, he said. The size of the offshore area affected by the spill is likely to be more than 400 square miles, he added.

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And a world away from China, on the Kalamazoo River, Michigan, some 1,000,000 gallons of flammable goo have poured into the river and are heading towards Lake Michigan.  “A nightmare in our own backyard.”

Update: Although Michigan’s spill represents only 32 percent of the amount of oil spilled per day in the ongoing BP oil disaster, the environmental implications of the leak are already clear. Not only has wildlife — including geese and muskrats — been coated in oil, but fears also remain high that the oil will contaminate local water supplies. The Calhoun County Health Department has advised residents around the area of the Kalamazoo River oil spill to evacuate, due to “‘higher than acceptable levels of benzene’ in air quality studies.” Benzene, notes the press release from the health department, is a “highly flammable” organic chemical that can lead to a series of symptoms from dizziness to tremors. The long-term effects of benzene exposure, however, are more dire and are linked to excessive bleeding and even cancer in human beings. Enbridge has agreed to reimburse affected families for the cost of hotel stays. [ThinkProgress]

Unbelievable photos:

Workers attempt to rescue a firefighter from drowning in the oil slick during the oil spill clean-up operations at Dalian's Port on July 20, 2010. (REUTERS/Jiang He/Greenpeace

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A firefighter who was submerged in thick oil during an attempt to fix an underwater pump is brought ashore by his colleagues in Dalian, China on Tuesday, July 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Jiang He, Greenpeace

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