site map Energy - beyond fossil fuelsLoud music and hearing damageWhat is memory, and intelligence? Incautious claims of IQ genes economics and money zone at abelard.org - government swindles and how to transfer money on the net   technology zone at abelard.org: how to survive and thrive on the web France zone at abelard.org - another France visit abelard's gallery
link to news zone link to document abstracts link to short briefings documents        news resources at abelard.org interesting site links at abelard's news and comment zone orientation at abelard's news and comment zone

back to abelard's front page

news archives

oil 1- 4

New translation, the Magna Carta
article archives at abelard's news and comment zoneoil archives
1-1 1-2 1-3 1-4
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 III-2004: 03
IV-2004: 06

oil 1-4

the Prestige debacle, part 2 - November & December 2002

latest reports the wreck
the original problem dealing with the mess
NW Spain and its fishing there are questions–
line diagram showing progess of oil slicks

Tracking the spread of oil from the Prestige

Clearing the Galician beaches continued through 25 December, a holiday.

The floating oil continues north and eastwards. France, and even the Netherlands, prepares.

The smaller amounts of oil threatening the French Basque coast (near the Spanish border) have “disappeared”.

Last updated 26 December 2002

23.12.02 The scattered collection of oil slicks has now cleared the Galician coast, heading north into the Portugal current at a rate of 2 km/hour. This puts the oil on an “ideal trajectory” for meeting the west winds expected later in the week. And then the oil would probably be blown directly onto French beaches.

Madrid reports that 15,000 tonnes of oil have now been recovered from the sea. Yesterday, close to 10,000 people – 7,000 volunteers and 3,000 military – were on the Galician shores, collecting up the viscous gunge.

Local fishing families have started catering for the volunteers, cooking huge pots of mussels.

Because the 120 km/hour wind has caused a large swell, some 5 to 7 metres high, it has been impossible to use the pumping boats to collect oil. The locals fear that the big waves will slop oil over their floating barrages set to protect the shellfish beds.

22.12.02 For the fourth consecutive day, waves of fuel oil from the latest slick batter the côte de la Mort, at the tip of Galicia. The worst affected beaches are those close to Carnota and Muxia, where the sand is totally covered with a thick, lumpy mess of oil.

Over 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil are now estimated to have escaped from the wreck of the Prestige.

A large, but dispersed, collection of slicks has been spotted, scattered over an area up to 30 kilometres wide (an area akin to that of New York City), and currently heading northwards, away from Galician beaches.
As the winds again veer to come from the south-west, the French coast, and perhaps even the English south-west coast, is threatened by this assemblage of about 100 emulsified oil pancakes.

The Nautile has put a further three patches on the leaking sunken wreck.
The head of the Spanish scientific commission in charge of pollution described the hole-blocking operations of the submarine Nautile as “a temporary solution” while waiting for more long-term methods of stopping the oil from escaping. The ‘patches’ usually comprise either sacks containing steel balls dumped onto, or into, the hole, or canvas spread over a breach and then loaded down with 25kg sacks of steel filings.

Now only the Spanish military (a 2000-strong contingent) is cleaning the rocky areas, while volunteers are cleaning the sandy beach areas. Why? Because the large areas of thick oil provide greater dangers of being poisoned while trying to clear the stuff.
400 people are now reported as being treated for immediate health problems related to clearing the oil.

23.12.02 The scattered collection of oil slicks has now cleared the Galician coast, heading north into the Portugal current at a rate of 2 km/hour. This puts the oil on an “ideal trajectory” for meeting the west winds expected later in the week. And then the oil would probably be blown directly onto French beaches.

Madrid reports that 15,000 tonnes of oil have now been recovered from the sea. Yesterday, close to 10,000 people – 7,000 volunteers and 3,000 military – were on the Galician shores, collecting up the viscous gunge.

Local fishing families have started catering for the volunteers, cooking huge pots of mussels.

Because the 120 km/hour wind has caused a large swell, some 5 to 7 metres high, it has been impossible to use the pumping boats to collect oil. The locals fear that the big waves will slop oil over their floating barrages set to protect the shellfish beds.

22.12.02 For the fourth consecutive day, waves of fuel oil from the latest slick batter the côte de la Mort, at the tip of Galicia. The worst affected beaches are those close to Carnota and Muxia, where the sand is totally covered with a thick, lumpy mess of oil.

Over 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil are now estimated to have escaped from the wreck of the Prestige.

A large, but dispersed, collection of slicks has been spotted, scattered over an area up to 30 kilometres wide (an area akin to that of New York City), and currently heading northwards, away from Galician beaches.
As the winds again veer to come from the south-west, the French coast, and perhaps even the English south-west coast, is threatened by this assemblage of about 100 emulsified oil pancakes.

The Nautile has put a further three patches on the leaking sunken wreck.
The head of the Spanish scientific commission in charge of pollution described the hole-blocking operations of the submarine Nautile as “a temporary solution” while waiting for more long-term methods of stopping the oil from escaping. The ‘patches’ usually comprise either sacks containing steel balls dumped onto, or into, the hole, or canvas spread over a breach and then loaded down with 25kg sacks of steel filings.

Now only the Spanish military (a 2000-strong contingent) is cleaning the rocky areas, while volunteers are cleaning the sandy beach areas. Why? Because the large areas of thick oil provide greater dangers of being poisoned while trying to clear the stuff.
400 people are now reported as being treated for immediate health problems related to clearing the oil.

20.12.02 The local Galician weather forecast (at Xunta de Galicia) predicts a storm during Saturday, with seas of up to 5 metres and winds ranging from Force 5 to Force 8 . The forecast concludes that the weather and sea conditions will make recovering oil from either sea or the beaches a difficult task.

The French Navy daily communiqué indicates that, despite the oil becoming ever more dispersed, 3 tonnes were collected in the previous 24 hours off Santander.

19.12.02 The feared third slick has arrived on Galician beaches – about a metre thick in places, and very ‘sloppy’ from being emulsified, it will probably be even harder to clear up.

Despite the patch, oil is still leaking at the same overall rate as previously (125 tonnes/day) through the remaining 14 cracks.

Reported in Nature:

A Smit Salvage spokesman says that the hulk will rust through in time.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WFN) reports that 3000 birds have been recovered dead or soaked in heavy oil. For every bird recovered, there are another 10 damaged or killed at sea.
“It’s one of the worst spills ever,” according to a spokesman for WFN’s endangered seas programme. “This is down to the quantity of heavy fuel oil released, its toxicity and the environmental importance of the damaged coastline. [...] We do not know whether it is a dripping tap or a time-bomb.”

The Iberian guillemot should be considered as technically extinct.

The environmental damage is not confined to birds and the coast. The food chain, from plankton upwards, is beng poisoned by the highly toxic heavy oil. This toxicity could well continue to poison fish stocks, as wall as marine mammals such as dolphins and porpoises.

18.12.02 It appears that the patch put over one of the leaks last week by the French submarine, the Nautile, is effective. The Spanish government is now planning that, in due course a further ten patches will be applied. However, most locals do not believe it will work. “Other cracks will appear under the pressure of being 3,500 metres down”. But would the sueggested solution of encasing the wreck in concrete fare any better?

In the meanwhile, however, Galician fishermen report that a third slick is now arriving on their beaches, as they find fresh patches of oil.

15.12.02 It is reported that, thus far, about 300 volunteers who had helped cleared the oil from the Galician beaches have been treated for respiratory problems and for vomiting after inhaling the poisonous oil.

14.12.02 27,000 tonnes have now escaped from the wreck. The oil, broken up by wind and waves, is being tricky to collect from the sea, although the French method using two trawlers and a special net is having results. The workers on the Galacian beaches fear the arrival of the next slew of oil.

There are now 9 streams of oil escaping from the bow section and 5 streams from the stern section of the Prestige, leaking in all 125 tonnes a day. The oil takes about a day to reach the surface. At that rate we are talking about a year or two of further continual mess; but my expectation would be that the pressure will increasingly crush the hull and speed up the flow.

At St. Jean de Luz, rocks are being sprayed with a patented ‘anti-sticking’ product, hoping that the oil will just slip off the rocks with the ebbing tide. (The product is said to bio-degrade in a week and to be non-toxic.) The oil could then be cleaned from the beaches more easily, although care has to be taken to remove as little sand as possible. On this stretch of coast the sand tends to be eroded, rather than deposited.

Another French innovation, devised after the lessons learnt from the Erika spill three years ago, is the use of very small-holed disposable nets to ‘catch’ the floating oil. The oil slithers through normal nets, at the same time covering them in a sticky, pervasive coating of black. The disposable nets avoid the thankless task of trying to clean nets before being able to re-use them.

The three-man submarine, the Nautile, has now verified that both the bow and the stern parts of the wreck are leaking oil. The oil is not solidifying, 3500 metres down, at a temperature of about 2.5°C.

While the Spanish prepare for a third slick to arrive on Galacian coast, fuel oil has been seen just 10 kms from Hendaye, France. However, the wind is keeping the oil from arriving on the French coast yet. Over 300 Spanish beaches are now polluted by the Prestige’s cargo.

Predictions about when, or if, oil will arrive on French coasts are being made difficult by the pancakes and pellets of oil being widely dispersed, and by some of them being below the sea surface. The submersed, generally smaller, lumps are difficult to see and will probably be carried quickly by the current, uninfluenced by winds. Tar blown inshore has been seen on beaches at Bilbao on the Spanish Basque coast.

The French administration based at Bordeaux has indicated that the fragmented nature of the pollution could, in due course, result in beaches from Hendaye by the Spanish border to Finistere in Brittany being affected.
Maybe some oil will even enter the Channel as it drifts even northwards.

Bordeaux has also noted, from satellite images, a number of iridescent slicks that can have come only from ships cleaning their tanks, thus indicating that others are taking advantage of the Prestige’s mess to try and disguise their own dirty antics. The oiled-up birds being found on the French coast have been fouled by this other pollution, not by that from the Prestige.


The little yellow submarine from France, the Nautile, has provided film of a slow continuous string of gel-like oil escaping from fissures in the wreck of the Prestige. The current water temperature is about 2°C. The holds have not yet been inspected.

The Spanish vice-PM has again tried to minimise events by characterising the oil still seeping from the wreck as being, “only a filament of half-solidified oil going back up to the surface again and not a question of some new pollution”. Unfortunately, satellite pictures taken a couple of days before show a large oil slick in this locality, which slick was also observed by various TV teams in chartered planes overflying the zone.

Increasing resources are being deployed by the French in the game of ‘chase the slick’. Brest laboratories have confirmed that the oil from the more recent slicks of North Spain also comes from the Prestige, not from another ship cleaning its tanks, as the Spanish authorities had suggested.

The slick, made up of some 150 oil patches of between 2 and 30 metre diameter, is described as being “like a vinaigrette”. When shaken by the wind and waves, the oil is dispersed into vague blotches; during calm moments, the oil coalesces into discrete, larger plaques. return to the top of this article


    line diagram showing the Portuguese or Lisbon current Origin of spill and local conditions
    22 November 2002  

The Portugal current forms off Lisbon in autumn when the prevailing wind turns to west-south-west. It is a warm current that flows north and east past the north coast of Spain and then up the west coast of France, following the edge of the continental plateau. By December, it is off the Arcachon Basin, and by January it is off Brittany. The current is about 100 kilometres wide and 300 metres deep. It flows at an average of 1 km/hr, with a top speed of 3.5 km/hr.

Known by French fishermen for the fish it brings them, and by coastal French inhabitants for the flotsam and jetsam it leaves on the beaches of the Basque and Aquitaine coast, this winter the Portugal current could likely carry heavy fuel oil spilt from the Prestige onto French beaches.

The French coastguard service say that various fragments of slick are now advancing along the north Spanish coast towards the French coast, while the Spanish government has revised upwards the amount of oil spilled to 17,000 tonnes. New oil appearing on the sea is described by a local salvage company as coming from the sunken Prestige , but by the Spanish government officials as from an unknown ship discharging its tanks.

The type of fuel oil transported by the Prestige is the same sort (residual fuel oil) that escaped from the wreck of the Erika, which sank off west Brittany in December 1999. Fuel oil from that spill, of only about 10,000 metric tonnes, is still being found on beaches on the north-west of France.

The prevailing winds are blowing the oil towards the Spanish coast and onshore. The beaches and rocks will have to be cleaned and recleaned to keep them oil-free. In the sea the two main slicks threatening the coast are breaking up, making its collection still more difficult. return to the top of this article

The local fishing industry has been stopped as fishes, scallops and mussels, as well as exotic delicacies such as Percebes (goose barnacles) and spider crabs, ingest the heavy fuel oil. This contains much highly carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; and heavy oil tends to stick to the ocean sediments on which marine creepy-crawlies wander and from which they dine. (Not the sort of thing you want to eat with your dinner.) The invasive pollution could, as in the case of the Erika, result in the long-term contamination of shellfish beds, and the closure of parts of fisheries around inlets where a lot of oil has settled.

The Galacian fishing industry accounts for 40 per cent of the total tonnage of Spain’s overall fleet. Ten years ago, a large marine aquarium was built and opened in the region, to remind the public what was nearly destroyed by the 80,000 tonne spill from the tanker Aegean Sea on this coast.

Just south of here, Vigo, a local fishing port, is reported as being, after Tokyo, the second biggest fishing port in the world, processing 30% of European tinned fish. Vigo, described as Spain’s principal Atlantic port, is from where refrigerated ships set out to plunder the world’s fishing grounds.

Spain’s monarch, King Juan Carlos has visited the Galician coast to see the mess and give support to the beleaguered local people. Strangely, Spain’s Prime Minister, usually quick to be present at the scene of disasters, has not visited the area since the oil started escaping in mid-November.

The seabirds are also suffering. Not only do they live on the sea, they dive below it to fish, so they need cleaning outside and in. It is reckoned that only about 50% of rescued and cleaned birds survive.
The latest estimates so far are that between 10,000 and 15,000 birds have been affected.return to the top of this article


And what of the wreck itself?
It is said that sunk 2.25 miles (11,880 feet) beneath the sea, 130 miles off Spain, the wreck of the Prestige will be benign. The heavy fuel oil will solidify with the cold and the pressure, and the hope is it will stay in and near the two parts of the sunken tanker. However, this theory is now confounded.

But, according to some sources,
the 26 year-old old ship could break up further, both on its journey to the bottom and because its rusty hulk may continue to deteriorate;
and can the oil be sucked out now? Probably. “You have to suck it out like toothpaste from a tube”. However, the low viscosity of residual fuel oil, particularly at the low temperatures deep in the sea (about 4°C in this part of the world), will make the work difficult.

Eventually, though, the ship will break up if it has not done so already. When this happens, the oil will resurface.
Because it is less dense than water, fresh residual fuel oil would float in water either at or below the surface. As the oil ages or ‘weathers’, it becomes heavier, but it would still float under most conditions.[For further information visit here.] The eventual result will probably be that the oil thrown up on a beach, either locally in Galicia, or further along the coast, maybe on French shores.

The long-terms effects of oil pollution are slowly becoming apparent.
Relatively small amounts of escaped oil can have a large environment impact, as with the Galapagos Islands spill last year. Other spills from 1989 (the Exxon Valdez) and 1969 (a spill off Massachusetts) are still fouling the surrounding beaches, while a freighter sunk in /1953 continues to ooze its oil.return to the top of this article
The hope that the Prestige will remain inert deep beneath the waves may be too optimistic.

Dealing with the mess

When the sea and weather conditions permit, floating oil is removed from the sea by using giant ‘vacuum cleaners’. On Saturday 30 November the flotilla of clean-up boats from many European countries (but not including Spain) removed a record amount of 3,000 tonnes of fuel oil. However, the wind and seas kicked up again and the next day no cleaning was possible.

Guided by spotter planes, pairs of French trawlers from St. Jean de Luz are making their first attempt, using specially adapted filter nets, to clear the slick patches approaching the Pays Basque coast. The oil cannot not be vacuumed because “the lumps are too dispersed and too small”.

The Spanish authorities have set droves of khaki and yellow-suited military, including students of a naval school, to clear and re-clear the beaches. Local fishermen and their families, as well as students, are piling into help, but is a daunting task with the constant threat of new waves of muck. The local fishermen are now spending their own money on floats, plastic sheeting, chains and other equipment to try and rig up defences for their ports and shellfisheries, because the authorities are failing to act effectively.

This disaster threatening much of the west coast of Europe may have been return to the top of this articleconsiderably aggravated by the behaviour of the Spanish authorities.


Here is a gallery of 10 clear pictures of the Prestige disaster.

 

Related material
The Prestige case: Latest reports (Jan.2003)
The politics of irresponsibility (Jan. 2003)
The politics of irresponsibility (Nov & Dec.2002)
Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov.2002)

World oil reserves and oil-based fuel development
Oil technical information and data

 

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/archive-oil1-4.htm#oil051202

last updated
26.12.2002

 

related material

The Prestige: Latest reports (Jan. 2003)

The politics of irresponsibility (Jan 2003)

The politics of irresponsibility (Nov & Dec 2002)

Another potential ecological oil mess (Nov. 2002)

World oil reserves and oil-based fuel development

Oil technical information and data

 


advertising
disclaimer

 

 


advertising
disclaimer


advertising
disclaimer


email abelard at abelard.org

© abelard, 2002, 31 december


all rights reserved

the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/news/archive-oil1-4.htm

3000 words
prints as 6 A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)

navigation bar ( eight equal segments) on 'news archives- oil 1-4' page, linking
  to abstracts, mechanics of inflation,logic has made me hated among men,Abelard of Le Pallet - an introduction,feedback and crowding, orientation, multiple uses for this glittering
  entity, e-mail abelard