Crude oil has blanketed water and beaches at a Thai vacation spot after an offshore pipeline leaked an estimated 13,200 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Thailand Saturday.
The spill occurred about 12 miles off the coast of Rayong, Thailand, and reached Ao Prao beach on the island of Koh Samet on Sunday. About 1,900 feet of white sandy beach was covered in oil.
The oil prompted an evacuation of tourists staying at the beach, which is popular among foreign and Thai visitors. The operator of the pipeline, PTT Global Chemical, has apologized for the spill and said the leak has been plugged, but as of Tuesday, the company did not know how the leak had occurred — a matter the company’s president told CNN Tuesday needed “a lot of investigation.”
The company’s initial estimates that the cleanup would take two to three days have proven too optimistic — now in its fourth day, the oil is only partiallycleaned up and the oil has now spread to nearby smaller islands.
The spill may also be moving towards the mainland Rayong province, a development that the Thai government has been concerned about from the spill’s start. According to the Wall Street Journal, Thai media outlets have reported that thin films of oil and oil residue have been spotted from a beach in Rayong, about 13 miles from Ao Prao beach. As of Tuesday, Rayong’s Muang’s district leader hadn’t received a report of an oil slick but had told his staff to be on the lookout for oil.
Thai authorities have declared the area of Ao Prao a disaster zone and hundredsof Royal Thai Navy personnel, PTT Global Chemical workers, national park officials and villagers are working to remove the oil. Airplanes have also spreadchemical dispersants over the spill — a decision that was a “last resort” due to windy weather that made the use of oil booms difficult. The dispersants are worrying some in Thailand, however, because PTT Global Chemical has admitted the chemicals could be an environmental or health hazard. Dispersants have been found to be harmful before — chemicals used to disperse oil from the BP oil spill created a mixture that was 52 times more toxic than oil alone, according to one study.
It’s still unclear how the spill could affect wildlife in the region — government officials have ordered a test of seafood caught off Rayong’s coast, and an initial inspection of the coral reef located about 300 feet from Ao Prao didn’t find any oil damage. Ply Pirom, a Greenpeace manager in the area, said the region “can expect an impact on fisheries and from chemical contamination in the food chain.”