Our planet, Earth, has large reserves of oil and gas trapped deep beneath its surface. Occasionally, these reserves develop cracks and some of the oil or gas seep out. However, this is a part of nature and rarely causes any major damage. On the other hand, there are times when the same problem is causes because of human interference and it can cause a great deal of damage to marine ecosystems. In the last thirty odd years, the issue of oil spills and their effects has taken on much importance. This is because when an oil spill occurs, it causes a multitude of problems for the environment and us.
An oil spill happens when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline. It happens on a large scale and is mostly seen in water bodies. It happens due to human negligence and is a major form of pollution. The source of the spill are many. Crude oil can be released by tankers on land. In water bodies, the spill occurs due to drilling rigs, offshore oil platforms and well. An oil spills and their effects can also be experienced with refined petroleum or even waste oil from large scale industries. What is common in all of them is that the damage caused by them is permanent and takes a long time to clean up.
As oil spill, it floats on water and prevents sunlight to pass through it. The shiny substance that you see sometimes on top layer of water is nothing but oil which makes it difficult for plants and sea animals to survive. Cleaning up of oil spill is no easy task. Various factors need to be considered before carrying out operations. Some of them being amount of oil spilled, temperature of water, type of beaches and many more.
Oil spill can prove fatal for plant, animal and human life. The substance is so toxic that it can cause massive loss of species that live in the sea. Oil spill penetrates into the plumage and fur of birds, breaks down the insulating capabilities of feather which makes them heavier, disallow them to fly and kill them via poisoning or hypothermia.
Even though the public attention towards oil spills has grown in the last three decades, they have been happening for over a century. Since the coming of the industrial revolution, such accidents have been happening. However, the large scale problems that follow oil spills and their effects are more obvious to us today. There are two main types of effects seen after the spill.
Effects of Oil Spills
1. Environmental Effects: First of these is the environmental effect. The animal life that lives in the water or near the shore are the ones most affected by the spill. In most cases, the oil simply chokes the animals to death. Others that live face a number of other problems. The oil works its way into the fur and plumage of the animals. As a result, both birds and mammals find it harder to float in the water or regulate their body temperatures.
Many baby animals and birds starve to death, since their parents cannot detect their natural body scent. Birds that preen themselves to get rid of the oil accidentally swallow the oil and die due to the toxic effects. In many cases, the animals become blind due to repeated exposure to the oil. Dolphins, sea otters, fish, countless species of birds and many oceanic mammals face these consequences. Countering these effects and cleaning the oil can take anywhere between a few weeks to many years, depending on the damage caused.
2. Effect on Economy: The second major effect of the oil spill is seen on the economy. When precious crude oil or refined petroleum is lost, it effects the amount of petroleum and gas available for use. This means more barrels have to be imported from other countries. Then comes the process of cleaning the oil spill, which requires a lot of financing. Although the company responsible for the oil spills and their effects has to clean it up, there is a lot of government help required at this point.
The workers that are brought on board to clean up the spill face tremendous health problems later in life as well. Their medical treatment has to be paid for and becomes the responsibility of the government. Putting all the methods of recovery into place and monitoring them takes away resources from other more important work and hits the economy in subtle but powerful ways.
3. Effect on Tourism Industry: The local tourism industry suffers a huge setback as most of the tourists stay away from such places. Dead birds, sticky oil and huge tarballs become common sight. Due to this, various activities such as sailing, swimming, rafting, fishing, parachute gliding cannot be performed. Industries that rely on sea water to carry on their day to day activities halt their operations till it gets cleaned.
One of the biggest oil spills seen in history happened during Gulf war when approximate 240 to 336 million gallons of crude oil flowed into the Persian Gulf. It was considered one of the worst disasters, beating the Ixtoc 1 Oil spill in Mexico. Recent major oil spill happened when an oil rig, Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill released somewhere between 172 to 180 million gallons of crude oil into the environment. In the year 2010 alone, six oil spills were seen in the USA. Outside of the United States, oil spills have happened in Canada, Nigeria, France, United Kingdom and in China.
While the long term issues causes by oil spills and their effects is yet to be fully observed, the daily problems are clear. However, most corporations still do not have a solid plan in place for when this emergency may strike.
One must understand that oil spill is not the only threat that marine life is facing. Increasing pollution, contamination of industrial chemicals, exploitation of the resources they provide are also some of the serious threats.
Image credit: dzulhelmi
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