Are Oil Tanker Spills Getting Worse? Spill Statistics From 1970 to 2017

You can draw your own conclusions from the charts below but it is not debatable that Oil Tankers used to get into a lot of serious accidents and spill a huge amount of oil.  That is just not the case today.

As you can see in the chart below, the oil tanker business has become dramatically safer in the last 35 years since tanker traffic became popular in the early 1970’s:tanker-oil-spills-1973-2015

The 2017 the tanker oil spill numbers look very similar to the 2010/11 numbers with:

  • two large spills (>700 tonnes) both of which occurred out at sea
  • four small spills (<700 tonnes) with only one occurring near a harbor and was the result of an avoidable collision

If you do the math, this calculates to oil tanker accidents have been reduced 92% while there has been a 55% increase in their use.  That means late 2010’s oil tanker traffic is about 20 times less likely to have a spill than they were in the early 1970’s.

The number of oil tanker spills has dramatically declined while number and size of tankers has dramatically increased


The entire GLOBE averages LESS than two large oil tanker spills per year:


In fact the number of oil tanker spills decreased by half from 2002 to 2011 and is about 1/6th what is was in 1992:

tanker-oil-spills-1992-2011Also the size of the spills have been substantially reduced:tanker-oil-spills-size-1992-2011As you can plainly see the reason tanker spills have been nearly eliminated can be attributed to legislation.  Most notably the:

It is important to note that this site is NOT supporting oil tankers.  Like all of our content, we simply want to work with the facts and leave as much emotion as we can out of the decision making process.

Tankers with out a doubt unpleasant, just like all large infrastructure (highways, power transmission lines, pipelines…), but as they grow in size (which reduces the number of small, less experienced tankers) and regulation tightens, oil tankers become much more reliable and less prone to spills.


  1. Avatar
    Tom Thorsen April 18, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    You got the real numbers here but I don’t think anybody that is opposed to this cares about the fact. Just because it’s very very safe brings in a lot of money and would improve the environment on a global scale does it mean the people with their head stuck in the sand want to pull it out.

    • Avatar
      Ian Matthews April 22, 2018 at 10:07 pm

      Hi Tom;

      I agree that many people are dealing with oil and carbon on an emotional level. I drive an electric car and solar panels but know that no credible researcher shows that global oil consumption will decrease before the late 2030’s (at best) so we support having Canadian oil produced and shipped elsewhere to STOP massive oil producers like Russia, Nigeria and Venezuela (where the environment is not even a consideration) fill the demand. If we produce oil in Canada under the rule of law with aggressive environmental legislation and very aggressive “activists”, it will be well managed. see: is founded on the belief that facts will eventually win-out over emotion and we try our best to keep opinion out of the articles.

      Thanks for your comment.

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