Oil Spills

Orly Mercado

Posted on August 17, 2006

Playing Russian roulette with a shotgun

Two big oil spills in Asia are wreaking havoc on the environment. A Japanese tanker has spilled 1.4 million gallons of crude oil in the Eastern Indian Ocean. Another tanker ferrying bunker fuel sank in rough seas off Guimaras island in central Philippines.

We have seen this before. We are all furious at the effects of oil spills on wildlife. Subsistence fisherfolk in the coastal towns of Guimaras may now be facing hunger. Those who work in beach resorts in the Visayas region, including the famed Boracay island, can only pray the spill will not spread to them. As if the tourist industry does not have enough problems with terror threats in air travel, now this.

Media reports say the clean up may take three years. But what is the record? The Exxon Valdez is the mother of all oil spills. Wildlife International, citing a study by the US Office of Spill Prevention and Response, says that some 20 acres of shoreland in Prince William Sound are still contaminated with oil 12 years after the disaster.

What is more depressing is the knowledge that for decades our sea lanes in the Philippines have been polluted with solid waste and effluents including used oil. The OSPR estimates that one gallon of used motor oil in one million gallons of water will kill half of all Dungeness crab larvae exposed to it. So we have big oil spills, and tiny oil spills. But they are all disastrous.

The Philippines has an unenviable record of maritime disasters. Collisions of ferries and tankers have claimed thousands of lives in the past. Of course we are told that the tanker Solar 1 was not involved in a collision. But that is small comfort.

We have to concentrate on better regulating tanker traffic. Each passage of a tanker is a potential oil spill. And with increased traffic as a result of growing economic activity, we are subject to the law of averages. To hope that this accident may not happen again soon is like playing Russian roulette with a shotgun.

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