• Ryan Honary

How Early Detection Could Have Prevented the Oil Spill in Orange County, California



On October 2, 2021, news of a devastating tragedy broke. A leak had resulted in a massive oil spill, with about 126,000 gallons of oil covering roughly 8,320 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. As a result, a copious amount of marine animals and birds were killed and the 2021 Pacific Airshow was shortened. The beaches were closed down for the public and were bombarded with workers who were digging the oil out and measuring the oil levels. It is estimated that the negative economic impact of these closures exceeds tens of millions of dollars.


Many people believe that the leak started several months to a year earlier than when it was first spotted. When the leaking pipe was located and investigated, it was found that the crack in the pipeline was only thirteen inches long, which meant that it must have been leaking for a very long time to cause such a large disaster. Since the leak was discovered extremely late, it had already become a colossal catastrophe. It is thought an anchor from a cargo ship might have pulled the pipeline out of its original safety belt and caused the damage, however, no one knows exactly when this might have happened, or even if, in fact, this was the reason.


The lack of visibility and data caused a preventable or repairable accident to turn into a massive and costly environmental disaster. If sensors had been deployed on or near the pipeline, they could have quickly detected that there was a crack or tear in the pipeline and that it needed immediate maintenance. This would have taken care of the problem quickly and efficiently while preventing widespread fatalities in animals and damage to the environment.


A sensor network such as the one I’ve proposed for wildfires could be easily adapted for the early detection of oil leaks. The only change I’d need to make to my system is the type of sensors on each detector - my system’s network would stay the same.


In conclusion, oil spills can be extremely harmful to both animals and humans if they are not quickly eradicated once they erupt. I believe my system could have greatly helped the prevention of the oil spill becoming so devastating. My network would have quickly and efficiently detected the crack or tear and reported it. Divers could have been quickly sent down to repair the damage and the problem would be completely fixed. Animals would have been saved, the environment would have been much cleaner, and humans would have a clean beach to enjoy.

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