Iraqi Forces Cause the Gulf War Oil Spill

On January 21, 1991, Iraqi forces opened valves at the Sea Island oil terminal and dumped oil from several tankers into the Persian Gulf.

The apparent strategic goal was to foil a potential landing by U.S. Marines. The oil moved southward, ending up on the north coast of Saudi Arabia, endangering the fragile intertidal zones and mangrove forests and destroying wildlife habitats. The immediate reports from Baghdad said that American air strikes had caused a discharge of oil from two tankers. Coalition forces determined the main source of oil to be the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait. American airstrikes on January 26 destroyed pipelines to prevent further spillage into the Persian Gulf. Several other sources of oil were found to be active: tankers and a damaged Kuwaiti oil refinery near Mina Al Ahmadi, tankers near Bubiyan Island, and Iraq's Mina Al Bakr terminal.