With BP still in the news over the Gulf of Mexico, it comes as no surprise to be reminded of an earlier oil spill disaster – the Torrey Canyon. On Saturday 18 March 1967, this supertanker ran aground on Pollard’s Rock between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly and almost 120,000 tonnes of crude oil seeped into the Atlantic. Oil despoiled the beaches of Cornwall – and more was propelled by winds and currents across the channel towards France.
Although this happened over 40 years ago the remaining oil from the spill, which is now contained in a quarry in Guernsey, is finally going to be cleared. The quarry, which looks rather like Richard Wilson’s 20:50 art installation at the Saatchi Gallery, London, ( http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/richard_wilson.htm )has refused to disappear. Guernsey’s government has spent thousands trying to clean it up. It was emptied in the 80s and more recently 160,000 litres were taken to a processing plant in Hull. But each time the oil has been removed more has seeped from the sediment below, which cannot be dug out because the quarry was a German armaments dump during the Second World War. Last year, the water level rose and the changing pressure released more crude from the bottom.
Now, at last the Guernsey authorities are trying to remove the last of the Torrey Canyon oil and, better still, in an environmentally friendly way using a bio-remediation method. This summer micro-organisms were pumped into the oily water and a process of “bioaugmentation” using naturally occurring bacteria, who feed on oil, began. These rapidly multiplying micro-organisms are predicted to eat the oil by the end of the year.
So let’s hope, after 43 years, this is the end of the Torrey Canyon oil disaster legacy and this remediation approach proves effective.