Oil Spills

The term oil spill typically refers to crude oil spilled that occurs in bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes, rivers or streams. Ocean spills are the most commonly depicted spills because of the catastrophic effects on the environment. Oil spills can also occur on land as well and are caused by pipeline breaks, truck turn over’s, container spills and mechanical malfunctions.

Many marine spills over the years have been caused by accidents involving trucker spills. These spills can be caused by fires, explosions, Hull failures or running aground. These spills are much publicized because of the sheer volume of the spill and environmental impact that occurs.

Oil Spills in water can also be caused by naval seepage. As the Earth’s surface moves and the earth’s tectonic plates tend to shift, oil can be released from reserves trapped deep beneath the ocean floor. Drilling activities can accelerate these released over periods of time.

There are releases of oil and hydrocarbons on a daily basis by the normal usage of automobiles, trucks, trains and heavy equipment. Most of these cars and equipment use gasoline and lubricants to operate and over time spill and leak onto roads and highways. When it rains, these hydrocarbons are washed into storm drains and eventually into our rivers and lakes.

Improper disposal of used motor oil or used oil of any type can worsen runoff and pollution. Dumping of used oil in storm drains is illegal in most cities and states.

Drilling and storage of hydrocarbons can also create seepage and spillage. Storage tanks and pipelines can rupture causing catastrophic oil spills. Many of these spills can be caused by natural disasters, like earthquakes and hurricanes.

Accidents can also cause oils spills and many of these are manmade, such as digging, trenching and mistakes in handling hydrocarbons.

When oil spills do occur, the clean up can be difficult and exhausting. The oil must be removed in spilled areas by using skimmers and vacuum trucks.

Dispersants may be added to polluted waters to break up the oil. The Environmental impact of this type of oil spill activity is still being debated in the scientific community.

An oil spill is the release of any hydro-carbons into the environment, especially in marine environments usually due to human activity and is considered a form of pollution. The term is most often used in relation to marine oil spills where oil is released into ocean or coastal waters, but oil spills can also occur on land as well. Oil spills can occur by the release of product from tanker trucks, drilling rigs, offshore drilling and production platforms as well as pipeline breaks and ruptures. Refined products like gasoline and diesel can also be spilled in the same matter as crude oil. Heavier fuels such as bunker fuel that is usually transported by ship can also be a source of an oil spill.

Oil spills often effect wildlife in many ways. Oil penetrates into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals reducing its insulating ability and making them more vulnerable to temperature changes and much less buoyant in the water.

Cleanup and recovery of oil is difficult and depends upon many factors including type of oil spilled, water temperature and types of shoreline and beaches involved. Some spills can take weeks, months or even years to clean up.

There are impacts to not only the environment, but also to humans. Oil spills can represent an immediate fire hazard. After the Kuwait war with Iraq, the numerous rig fires caused respiratory distress. As most people know, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire killed 11 rig workers. The LAC-Megantic train derailment killed 47 and destroyed half of the town’s center. Oil Spills can also contaminate drinking water supplies and have negative economic impact on tourism and marine resource extraction industries. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted beach tourism and fishing along the Gulf Coast.

Environmental Effects of Oil Spills

Oil spills have a very negative effect in a variety of birds and mammals. Animals that rely on scent to find their babies often reject their own offspring because the oil that coats them covers the natural scent of the baby, thus leaving the baby to die of starvation. Other effects on birds include, impaired ability to fly, kidney damage, dehydration and metabolic imbalances.

Heavily furred marine mammals exposed to oil suffer similar issues to that of birds. Oil coats the fur of sea otters and seals reducing its insulating effects leading to hypothermia.

According to the United States Coast Guard, 35.7% of the volume of oil spilled in the United States from 1991-2004 came from tank vessels, 27.6% from facilities and other non-vessels, 19.9% from non tank vessels, 9.3% from pipelines and 7.4% from mystery spills.

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