The Worst Energy Related Disasters of 2011

19 September of 2012 by

energy oil spill diasater The Worst Energy Related Disasters of 2011

Feeding the globe’s insatiable energy appetite is a highly dangerous business. And, unfortunately, events like the BP oil spill are not once-in-a-generation freak accidents. Here, we take a look at the biggest energy-related accidents in 2011.

Note: I’ve ranked the disasters in terms of importance. If you disagree with my rankings, or have other events that might be more significant in your estimation, please share it in the comment section below.

10. Rena Oil Spill Off Coast of New Zealand
rena oil spill The Worst Energy Related Disasters of 2011
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On October 5, 2011, a cargo ship ran itself aground in the Astrolabe Reef. Carrying 1,700 tons (83,300 barrel equivalent) of oil onboard, the 775-foot Rena leaked almost one-quarter of its fuel, 400 tons (28,000 barrels) into the ocean. The spill led to beach closures and the death of thousands of birds, fish, and other sea-life.  Rena’s spill has been labelled New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster of all time.

 Image credit: Jeanfrancois Beausejour via Flickr

9. Coal Mine Explosion, Salinas, Mexico
On May 3, 2011, a coal mine in Sabinas, Mexico exploded killing 14 miners and injuring one. Safety standards in Mexico’s coal industry are less than adequate. Small coal mines often escape inspection and fall outside of any regulation. Workers are usually teenagers under 18, equipped with basic tools and no helmets. As a result, major accidents such as the one in Sabinas are not uncommon. In 2006, a coal mine explosion killed 65 miners — the worst in Mexico’s history. Since 2006, it is believed another 40 people have been killed in local mines.

Young Mexican miner hauling coal out of a mine shaft. Image credit: Mexico National Commission on Human Rights

8. North Sea Oil Spill
On August 10, 2011, an oil leak was discovered on the Gannet Alpha offshore oil platform operating off the coast of Scotland. The leak spilled 1,300 barrels of oil into the North Sea. The Gannet Alpha is owned by Exxon and Shell. Although much smaller than other international oil spills such as BP’s in the Gulf of Mexico or Shell’s in the Niger Delta, this spill is the largest the North Sea has seen in the last ten years. Research by The Guardian shows there are an average of 294 spills in the North Sea every year. However, the spill in August 2011 was more than four times larger than all of the oil spills combined in the North Sea in 2009.

The Gannet Alpha platform. Image credit: Royal Dutch Shell

7. Coal Mine Explosion in China
On October 29, 2011, a gas explosion at the Xialiuchong Coal Mine in Hengyan, Hunan killed 29 miners and injured 6 others. Accidents at coal mines in China are not uncommon, as many mines disregard safety standards. In 2011, 1,973 miners were killed in accidents.  The government, however, continues to increase its safety measures, and the actions are having a positive effect — the 2011 death total was 19% lower than that of 2010.

Lao Ye Temple Coal Mine Shaft. Image credit : LHOON via Flickr

6. Coal Mine Blast in Pakistan

On March 20, 2011, a series of three methane gas explosions occurred in a coal mine in Baluchistan, Pakistan. 43 miners were killed in the blast. It is reported that two people survived the disaster by not going into the mine that day. The mine is owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and was leased to a contractor. Two weeks prior to the explosion, the contractor had been asked to shut the mine down due to an excessive accumulation of methane gas.

Image credit: Ahmad Saleem

5. Oil Spill in Northwestern Alberta:

On April 29, 2011, Alberta suffered its worst oil spill in 36 years when a pipeline broke spilling 28,000 barrels of oil into a remote area of the boreal forest. The spill occurred just 300 meters from local waterways. The Lubicon Cree Nation is settled 10-kilometers east of the spill. The town of 300 was enveloped by odours which caused several members of the community to become sick. It took five days before Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner became aware residents were being adversely affected by the spill. Even then, he “could not say for sure” if the odour making residents sick was coming from the spill.

Image credit: Rogu Collecti/Greenpeace

4. Pipeline Explosion in Kenya

On September 12, 2011, a fuel pipeline exploded in a densely populated area of Nairobi. The explosion was so powerful it flattened homes and reduced some bodies to dust. According to the Red Cross, at least 75 people were killed in the explosion, while other reports suggest more than 100 people died. 118 people were admitted to hospitals with injuries from the blast. The exact cause of the explosion has not been determined. Police believe the pipeline may have been punctured in an effort to steal fuel. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Raila Odinga says a mechanism on the pipeline failed, allowing fuel to spill into a drainage ditch where it ignited — most likely the result of a lit cigarette. Odinga called the explosion the “worst energy-related disaster in Kenya’s history.”

3. Offshore Oil Spill in the Niger Delta

On December 20, 2011, a major leak occurred at an offshore oil platform operated by Royal Dutch Shell off the coast of Nigeria. A break in the flexible line which transports oil from the vessel onto oil tankers led to 40,000 barrels of oil being leaked into the ocean. Nigerian regulators have told Parliament Shell should be fined US$5 billion for the environmental damage caused by its spill — considered the largest in Nigeria in the last ten years. The Taipei Times reports that over its 50 year history of extracting oil in Nigeria, shell has spilled 550 million gallons into the Niger Delta.

Satellite image of the 350 mile oil slick caused by the Shell oil leak in the Niger Delta. Image credit: Skytruth

2. Northern Russia Oil Leaks
Labelled the world’s “worst ecological oil catastrophe,” Russia’s oil industry spills an estimated 30 million barrels of oil every year — this is the equivalent of a Deepwater Horizon oil spill every two months. Experts estimate that 10%-15% of this oil gets spilled into rivers, with half a million tons spilling into the Arctic Ocean annually. Seeping through rusted pipes and old wells, this continuous oil leak wreaks havoc on rivers, plant life, and animal habitat. The latest data shows that in 2010, Russia was home to 18,000 oil leaks.

Image credit: Greenpeace

1. Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

On March 11, 2011, following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami that rocked Japan, the world witnessed its worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl. The damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami led to three explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The explosions at the plant produced radiation levels 100 times above safety standards. The International Nuclear Events Scale gave the Fukushima disaster its highest rating (7) in terms of severity — only Chernobyl has received an accident rating 7. Six Fukushima workers have died from serious exposure to radiation and the clean up costs are an estimated US$13 billion. Since the accident, several countries have beefed up nuclear regulations, while others such as Switzerland and Germany have abandoned the technology all together.

Image credit: Thierry Ehermann via Flickr.

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