Companies Responsible For The Biggest Oil Spills

The impact of oil spills is sometimes mild and easily fixable, but the biggest spills can have devastating effects on the environment and economy. The repercussions of oil spills often leave the responsible parties scrambling to repair public relations. The causes of spills do vary, and sometimes it's difficult for a company to predict an accident. However, when an incident seems easily preventable, public outrage is often the result. 

Oil spills in the ocean can wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and cause major environmental issues. Spills that occur in or near land can also affect the terrestrial environment, including the surrounding wildlife. Even after the oil is cleaned up and contained, the long term effects of oil spills can continue to devastate for decades. Unlike other forms of pollution, oil spills can and often are blamed on the corporate entities controlling the source of oil. Whether you believe corporations should be held responsible or not, it's important to get the facts as oil spills are likely to continue to happen as time goes by. Below, you'll find a list of the worst oils spills in history and the companies behind them. 


  • Union Oil Company
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Union Oil Company

    Spill: Lakeview Gusher Spill 
    Date: March 14, 1910 - September, 1911
    Location: Maricopa, California
    Barrels Spilled: 9,000,000

    The Lakeview gusher is one of the most severe oil spills in human history. The incident took place 110 miles north of Los Angeles in Kern County, California. Union Oil prospectors in the area had been searching for oil deposits unsuccessfully when they got a message to abandon the well where they were working. The foreman ignored the orders and kept drilling and his team unexpectedly drilled into a massive pool of oil. The oil then erupted out of the ground with such force no one could cap it. 

    Workers had to work frantically to keep the oil from spilling into the Buena Vista Lake, which was an important source of fresh water for the region. Luckily, their efforts paid off and there wasn't much environmental damage done to the region. Most of the oil soaked into the surrounding sage brush and then evaporated. 

  • BP
    Photo: EPI2oh / Foter / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Spill: Gulf Oil Spill 
    Date:  April - September 2018
    Location:  Gulf of Mexico 
    Barrels Spilled: 4,900,000

    The Gulf Oil Spill, often referred to as the Deepwater Horizon spill, is considered the worst oil disaster in the history of the United States. The spill began after an explosion in the Deepwater Horizon marine oil rig caused the station to sink and killed 11 platform workers as a result. The Macondo oil well proceeded to leak for the next four months, releasing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The leak occurred at a depth of roughly 5,000 feet, making it extremely difficult to cap the well. Roughly 1,000 miles of beach along multiple states were affected by spill, and the fishing and shrimping industries struggled for the rest of the year. The well would eventually be capped, and BP was forced to pay $1.7 billion in damges.

  • Spill: Ixtoc I Spill 
    Date: June 3, 1979 - March 23, 1980
    Location:  Gulf of Mexico
    Barrels Spilled: 3,300,000

    One of the worst oil spills of all time happened in the Gulf of Mexico when an explosion at the Mexican-owned Ixtoc I platform released a stream of oil that would not be capped for nine months. Over three million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, and it would only stop after the successful drilling of two relief wells. The damage done was significant, with many locals stating that the fish population has yet to fully recover. The state owned oil company, Pemex, was in charge of the station at the time of the incident. 

  • South Gulf Shipping Co.

    Spill: Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain Collision 
    Date: July 19, 1979
    Location: Trinidad and Tobago
    Barrels Spilled: Approximately 3,249,558

    In 1979, two oil tankers collided off the coast of Little Tobago and created one of the worst oil spills of all time. The two vessels were carrying nearly 500,000 tons of oil at the time of the collision, and much of it ended up in the Caribbean Sea. The Aegean Captain survived the collision and was safely towed to shore, managing to keep much of it's oil from spilling. The Atlantic Empress experienced a more dire situation. The crash started a fire on the ship which burned until the ship finally sank more than two weeks later. The entire cargo of the ship was lost, including 275,000 tons of oil. The Atlantic Empress was owned by the South Gulf Shipping Co. of Greece at the time of the incident. 

  • Uzbekneftegaz

    Spill: Fergana Valley Spill 
    Date:   March 2, 1992
    ​​​​​​​Location:  Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan
    ​​​​​​​Barrels Spilled: 2,000,000

    The worst oil spill on the Asian mainland occurred in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, at the Mingbulak oil field. There was a small explosion in the Mingbulak oil field, which caused oil to start spilling out of a well. A peak of 150,000 barrels of oil spewed from the site daily, and the oil eventually caught fire and burnt for two months. The site was largely abandoned afterwards and the spill was not widely publicized. 

  • Empresa Naviera Elcano, S.A.
    Photo: NOAA / Foter / CC BY 2.0

    Empresa Naviera Elcano, S.A.

    Spill: Saldanha Bay Spill 
    Date: August 6, 1983
    Location: Saldanha Bay, South Africa
    Barrels Spilled: 1,700,000

    Off the coast of South Africa, a Spanish oil tanker experienced a catastrophic failure that released nearly 2 million barrels of oil into the ocean. The ship caught fire and eventually split in half before finally sinking to the sea floor. Initially, there were fears that the oil would drift towards the coast and cause an environmental catastrophe, but fortunately it drifted away and eventually dispersed in a relatively safe manner. The ship was owned by the Spanish Empresa Naviera Elcano, S.A.