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The Esso-Bernicia Oil Spill, Shetland, 1978-79: Experiences and Lessons

RITCHIE, WILLIAM, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, U.K., and LYNDA V. KINGHAM, Auris, Ltd., Aberdeen, U.K.

About 2000 tons of Bunker C fuel oil escaped from a ruptured tank in a berthing incident in the winter of 1978-79. The worst weather conditions in a decade and failure of equipment led to widespread environmental damage. Local crofters also suffered some loss of sheep through oiling and subsequent drowning (sheep graze backshore beach areas of Shetland).

The environmental response to the experiences of this accident produced reinforcement of baseline and operational monitoring of the physical and biological environments. SOTEAG (the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Group--a committee set up and funded jointly by industry [the terminal and pipeline operators] and Shetland Island Council and including the Port of Sullom Voe Harbour Authority) also commissioned special surveys to investigate other claims of environmental damage. At a managerial level, links between the Sullom Voe Oil Spills Advisory Committee (SVOSAC) and SOTEAG were reinforced. SVOSAC is responsible for oil spill contingency planning, oil spill prevention measures, and the containment and clean-up procedures for oil spills. To prevent any recurrence of the widespread damage caused by "Bernicia" a multimillion dollar engineering project was completed to build permanent spill booms to intercept oil moving along the coast at strategic points and to boom-off environmentally sensitive areas. Oil spill response equipment and deployment capacity were also increased substantially.

Although not related directly to "Bernicia," other improvements over the last decade have included an "area of avoidance" for the prescribed westerly, Atlantic, tanker approach to the terminal (effectively at least 10 mi away from land), aerial and video inspection of all inbound tankers, and the introduction of legislation relating to the amount and quality of ballast water.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91004 © 1991 AAPG Annual Convention Dallas, Texas, April 7-10, 1991 (2009)