Thursday 1 August 2013

Oil spill devastates popular Thai tourist resort.

The popular tourist resort of Prao Bay, on Ko Samet Island off the coast of Rayong Province in Thailand has been covered by a 30 cm thick layer of black crude oil, following a leak from a pipeline owned by PTT Global Chemical Plc, which developed problems on Saturday 27 July 2013, leading to the release of about 50 000 liters of oil. The spill has spread to several smaller neighbouring islands, and there are fears it may reach the mainland. Oil is produced from a number of fields in the Gulf of Thailand and shipped to a refinery in Map Ta Phut in Rayong Province by oil tanker. The pipeline that leaked is used to unload oil from tankers 20 km offshore from the refinery.

Thai soldiers attempting to Ao Prao Beach on Ko Samet Island on Tuesday 30 July 2013. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters.

The company initially suggested the oil spill would be cleaned up within three days, though environmental groups were quick to point out that this was not only improbable, but implied that PTT had not thought through the possibility of a large spill, and how to deal with its consequences. It now looks likely that the tourist and fishing industries of the Gulf of Thailand will be badly affected by the spill for some time to come, with the Rayong Tourist Association warning that 30% of tourists on the island have already left.

The approximate location of the area affected by the 27 July 2013 PTT oil spill. Google Maps.

To make matters worse, the Thai Pollution Control Department are now suggesting that PTT may have used excessive levels of potentially harmful chemical dispersants while trying to control the spill. The company initially applied for permission to used 25 000 liters of dispersants, but was restricted to 5000 liters by the department, since a ratio of 1:10 is generally considered sufficient for the chemicals to work, and the dispersants are themselves thought to be lethal to many forms of marine life. The department now says the company has admitted to using 35 000 liters of dispersant, enough to (in theory) disperse around 350 000 liters of oil. This has led to the suggestion by biologist Pahol Kosiyachinda of Mahidol University that the spill may have been considerably larger than PTT are admitting. 

A vessel spraying chemical dispersants near Ao Prao Beach on Ko Samet Island on Tuesday 30 July 2013. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters.

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