Big Spills! Cartography as Context

oil tanker spill

I was born in 1981. Valdez, Alaska, and Exxon’s oil exploits are permanently lodged into my brain along with the Challenger spacecraft explosion and the Latin American debt crisis. Okay, maybe not the Latin American debt crisis, but you fill in the gaps later in life, yeah?

So here is a map of the fifteen largest oil spills as of august 2010 (may there be no more…)
map of biggest oil spills


Where’s the Exxon Valdez on the map of biggest oil spills, you might be wondering? Well, at 262,000 barrels spilled, it doesn’t make the cut. Not even close. The smallest spill pictured above was 871,000 barrels. The Deepwater Horizon, even using BP-provided estimates, is now the world’s second-largest spill of all time, right after the oil that Saddam Hussein intentionally dumped in 1991. This map does not account for chronic spills, as in the Niger Delta, polluted by at least 13 million barrels. And it shows the problem of identifying the culprits: In three instances, the responsible party is still unknown.


Anyway, the magnitude of spills is only one dimension. Even a rather small spill in a very fragile ecosystem can be worse than a massive spill in a place like the mid-atlantic. Most parts of Alaska are pretty damn fragile. So are the Mississippi Delta wetlands which, as most folks are aware, are eroding at a treacherous pace.

I just gotta say, I recently returned from Southeastern Alaska (like even south of Juneau), and there were streams teeming with tenacious salmon and eagles were literally soaring overhead and swooping into the channel every few hours. I’m pretty sure most of North America used to look like that (substitute your local fish variety), and the magnitude of how subdued our rivers, mountains, and coastlines are at this point struck me in a new way given the context of thriving wilderness in Alaska. The gulf oil spill from the deepwater horizon this spring/summer stressed me out to the point of paralysis. I’m not trying to end this with a moral or some heavy handed politics. The politics are self-evident, I think. Aren’t they…?

also, Oil is sooooo Twentieth Century

up up and away,
Sunshine Superboy


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