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Oil Spills 'Round the World: The 2011 Edition

More than a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the oil industry continues to chant its "We're not BP" mantra. But a tally of recent oil spills suggests the rest of the industry is, in fact, pretty much like... well, like BP. In the past year, nearly every Western oil major has reported -- sometimes rather evasively -- an onshore or offshore oil spill in Europe, Asia and North America.

The spills won't eclipse the BP oil spill, which sent 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico before the damaged Macondo well was capped. Still, the negative impact on local economies and ecosystems is palpable. And it raises an obvious question: If the industry is having problems now, should new areas be opened for drilling?

Here's a brief accounting of oil spills in 2011 that major companies have claimed responsibility for. Keep in mind this doesn't include spills caused from ships that have collided or run aground, an increasingly common occurrence off Mumbai's coast. Nor does it include the "small amounts of oil" that have been leaking from wells connected to a production platform destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Shell in the North Sea
An undersea pipe began leaking oil Aug. 7. So far, an estimated 1,300 barrels of oil have spilled into the North Sea, according to Shell (RDS). The company shut down the well and is working to stop the oil that remains in a flowline, which is leaking at a rate of about six barrels of oil a day.

The Gannet Alpha platform produces about 6,000 barrels a day and is operated by Shell along with Exxon (XOM). The platform had 10 leaks in 2009 and 2010, the WSJ reported. One spill was described as significant and the others were considered "minor."

The spill is considerably smaller than the Gulf disaster, but it's still the largest spill in the North Sea in a decade. And the company's secretive response and the record of other problems at the platform is reminiscent of BP's record.

Meanwhile, Shell is pushing regulators to allow it to begin drilling offshore Alaska in the Beaufort Sea, an area that the U.S. Coast Guard has warned it is ill-equipped to handle a spill. Shell's record is abysmal elsewhere, particularly Nigeria. A recent United Nations report said it could take 30 years and at least $1 billion to clean up crude-laden mangrove forests near where Shell operated. The report came the same week Shell admitted liability for the first time under British jurisdiction for two big leaks in the delta, The Economist reported.

Exxon's pipeline problem in the Yellowstone River

An Exxon pipeline dumped last month up to 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Initially, Exxon reps said it took "at most" a half hour to stop the flow of oil from the pipeline. Later, the company said it took only six minutes. Then, Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing said in response a question from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer that it took 30 minutes to seal off all valves to stop the flow of crude. But Department of Transportation documents show it took Exxon almost an hour to fully seal the pipeline.

Exxon has applied for a temporary construction license to build a replacement for the pipeline, which is buried at least 5 feet beneath the river bottom.

Conoco oil still leaking in China
Chinese authorities along with ConocoPhillips China and CNOOC kept two offshore oil leaks in Bohai Bay (which was first detected in early June) secret from the public for nearly a month. The details from Conoco, CNOOC and the Chinese government are shaky. Conoco has recovered 2,050 barrels of oil and mud and expects to finish the cleanup by the end of the month.

The company has determined the oil was coming from a seep in the seabed floor and says the majority of seepage problem has now been stopped.

BP pipeline leak in Alaska
A pipeline that was closed for maintenance leaked July 2011 during testing and spilled about 100 barrels of oil. The company has had a string of problems with its Alaska pipeline over the past decade. BP agreed to pay $25 million in civil penalties for spilling more than 5,000 barrels of crude oil in 2006 from its pipelines on the North Slope of Alaska.

And in 2010 there were these spills:

  • Chevron's pipeline leak in Utah: A pair of spills sent more than 1,000 barrels of oil into the soil and into Red Butte Creek, which eventually created an oil slick a lake in Liberty Park and killed off all the fish. Clean-up tab to date: $75 million. The first spill was caused by a freak accident during a summer thunderstorm, but it wasn't discovered until the following because of an inadequate detection system.
  • Enbridge's pipeline ruptured in July 2010, causing the largest inland oil spill in Midwest history. An estimated 23,000 barrels of heavy oil went into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The EPA said it has spent more than $31 million in cleanup costs.
Photo from Exxon
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