The New Global Oil Market: Understanding Energy Issues in the World Economy

By Siamack Shojai | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
Global Oil Spills, the Environment, and Oil Pollution Legislation in the United States

Kusum W. Ketkar

On March 12, 1990, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska ( Grumbles 1990). In reaction to the incident and public outcry, the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration finally passed, with overwhelming majority, the Oil Pollution Act (OPA).

The distinguishing characteristics of OPA 90 are that it requires all entities engaged in the production, storage, transportation, and distribution of petroleum and petroleum products to undertake preventive and safety measures to reduce the probability of accidental oil spills, as well as improve their preparedness to contain accidental spills in U.S. waters. It also imposes stiffer financial penalties and provides funding for additional navigational aids for high-risk waterways. OPA 90 represents a departure from the past, since traditionally the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a watchdog agency, has issued regulations to control the discharge of pollutants and waste, including ballast water, by the maritime industry into world's oceans. Even though the U.S. government has unilaterally issued regulations under OPA 90, the impact of these regulations is felt worldwide, due to the global nature of the oil and maritime industries. Furthermore, approximately 50 percent of the current U.S. demand for petroleum and petroleum products is met by imports. These imports represent more than 30 percent of the world's crude oil and products that are transported by sea annually worldwide. Most of these products are shipped to various U.S. ports in foreign-flagged tank ships ( National Research Council 1991).

The objective of this chapter is to critically evaluate the cost-effectiveness of OPA 90 as a deterrent to accidental oil spills in U.S. waters, and to develop a case for market-based incentives designed to reduce the probability of accidental spills.

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