ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Kuwait oil spill is likely to dwarf the spill of the Exxon Valdez in size, but its environmental consequences may not be as serious, according to a consulting firm that has studied spill patterns in Prince William Sound and the Persian Gulf.
The millions of gallons of crude oil pouring into the gulf are moving south and pose a serious threat to vital desalination plants and the region's rich shrimp fishery, said Malcolm Spaulding, president of Applied Science Associates of Rhode Island.
But the warm air of the region will mean the crude oil evaporates and breaks apart more rapidly in the Persian Gulf than it did in Prince William Sound, Mr. Spaulding said. The local crude is also lighter and more prone to weathering than Prudhoe Bay crude, he said.
In addition, the desert region supports much less wildlife than the Sound, Mr. Spaulding said.
Applied Science Associates has developed computer predictions of oil-spill trajectories in the Persian
Gulf under contract to the United Arab Emirates, an oil-producing federation on the gulf 500 miles south of Kuwait. The company produced similar studies for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. last year, Mr. Spaulding said.
Predominant currents in the shallow gulf move in a counterclockwise direction, Mr. Spaulding said. Winter winds out of the north are now pushing the oil south, but oil on the advancing edge should be reduced to tar balls in a matter of days, he said. In the 1989 Exxon spill in Alaska, oil remained in a frothy emulsion for weeks.
Scientists say that while Prince William Sound flushes out on a 28-day cycle, the same cycle in the Persian Gulf takes as long as 200 years. Still, in a month or so tar balls will reach the United Arab Emirates and begin to leave the Strait of Hormuz, Mr. Spaulding said.
The Persian Gulf has seen huge spills in the past, notably from Iran's offshore Nowruz field, where Iraqi missiles blew up production platforms in 1983. The Nowruz spill -- at 80 million gallons -- was nearly eight times the size of the Valdez.