The Size of Oil Spills

Significant Marine Oil Spills + Refugio Spill

yeareventrelease durationdepthdistance offshoreoil released (% of DWH)oil, US barrelsoil, million gallons (US)oil, cubic metersdispersant useddispersant, cubic metersspilled oil refdispersant ref
1967Torrey Canyon spill12 dayssurface25 km286,0003.6 million14,000at sea and on UK beaches: BP1002 plus 11 unk others9,500Smith 1968Straughan 1971
1969Santa Barbara blowout11 days, reducded flow >1 year57 m9.5 km280,000 to 100,0003.4 to 4.2 million13 to 16,000at sea Polycomplex A and unk Corexit294Straughan 1971 (Allen 1969)Unico at sea (Case History)
1979-80Ixtoc I blowout10 months50 m80 km753.7 million150 million580,000at sea Corexit 95275,600Anderson et al 1982Coast Guard (nd) & Lindblom, et. al (nd)
1989Exxon Valdez spill<1 daysurface2 km5 to 16260,000 to 760,00011 to 32 million42 to 120,000at sea Corexit 9580 (possibly 9527); on beaches Corexit 7664, 9580 and BP1100X15EV Oil Sprill Trustee Council 1994NOAA (nd) & EPA (nd)
1991Kuwait oil field sabotage9 monthssurfaceshoreline120 to 1706 to 8.2 million250 to 350 million0.95 to 1.3 millionnonenoneUNEP 1993; Readman et al 1996 (and refs therein)none
2010Deepwater Horizon blowout87 days1,544 m73 km1004.9 million210 million780,000at sea7,000Mcnutt 2011USGS pers. com.
2015Refugio2-4 hourssurfaceshoreline0.0150021,00078
nonenoneCDFW OSPR 2015none
I compiled this table a few years ago to help folks understand the scale of the Deepwater Horizon relative to other famous marine oil spills. I have added in our Refugio oil spill for comparison.

note: 1 barrel = 42 US gallons = 159 liters = 0.15899 m3 = 0.1364 metric tons


Deepwater Horizon timeline of oil and dispersants into the sea.  I created this figure from a variety of published accounts, from numerous discussion with the incident command, etc.  Dispersant was applied both at the surface of the ocean (solid pink) and at the wellhead (approximately 1,500 m deep, dotted burgundy).  The oil flow rates I report here are the rates estimated by the Flow Rate Technical Group, not the slightly lesser amount the courts recently (erroneously in my opinion) settled upon.

Deepwater Horizon pollution timeline


Refugio Fact Sheet (as of May 20, 2015) by the California Office of Spill Response and Prevention: