An oil spill is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution that our Earth has to struggle with. Normally, oil spills are caused by humans, and they usually affect water sources, but they can also pollute the land. They have many negative effects on our planet, from those related to human health, to those that affect the environment and the ecosystem. Despite this, oil spills are still occurring all over the world, putting in jeopardy human and animal lives. Today, we are going to take a closer look at this form of pollution and see what it entails, what causes it, what its effects are, and if there’s something we can do to put an end to it. Let’s begin!
What Is an Oil Spill?
When humans release liquid petroleum into the environment, that is when we are dealing with an oil spill. There are various human activities that can result in the spill of liquid petroleum. These include extracting oil on oil platforms, drilling the earth’s surface, or transporting oil via ships. Even if most oil spills refer to the pollution of water sources, human negligence can also pollute the land with liquid petroleum. Once an oil spill happens, its consequences are dire. It can also take a long time until people clean the mess it left behind. Furthermore, the damages it does to our planet are irreversible.
Oil Spill Causes
There are oil spills that can happen because of natural occurrences. However, these don’t normally hurt the environment or affect humans on a large scale. Oil spills caused by human activities on the other hand, severely damage the ecosystem. But what exactly are the causes behind these dangerous oil spills?
First of all, containers that we place either underground or above ground to store oil can sometimes leak in time and cause an oil spill. Or something can go wrong when we transfer the oil to use it for something else. A lot of oil spills have also been caused by the rupture of ships that were transporting oil on sea, which led to the flooding of water sources with oil. Pipes or other small devices that transport oil can also break down and cause oil spills. You might believe that such a small issue cannot cause a lot of trouble for our environment. But the problem is not the quantity of the oil that was spilled. The issue is the large number of such small spills.
When people are drilling in the ocean for oil sources, there is a possibility that due to a human error, some oil will get released into the water, causing an oil spill. Ship also need maintenance that involves the use of oil. Because of the impressive number of ships that need taking care of, the amount of oil that reaches water sources is also dangerous for our health and for the health of our environment and ecosystem.
People might even be polluting our planet with oil spills intentionally. Whenever you change your car oil, for instance, and you throw the old oil in the drain, this contributes to the amount of oil that people release daily into our environment. Road runoffs and faulty water sports vehicles are two other possible causes of oil spills.
How Does an Oil Spill Look?
Once you release oil into saltwater or freshwater, it usually floats. In very few cases it can happen that the oil sinks in freshwater, but only if it is really heavy. When oil comes in contact with water, it spreads around quickly, and it forms an oil slick. This is a thin layer of oil covering the water sources. Because of the fact that the oil spreads quite fast, this oil slick turns into what we call a sheen soon enough. Now, you are definitely familiar with what a sheen is, even though you maybe don’t know it yet. A sheen is that extremely thin layer of oil that we see forming a rainbow on certain surfaces after it rains.
Oil Spill Effects
There are a lot of negative effects of oil spills. Which is why it constitutes such a danger to our planet. In order to have a clear outlook on all the damaging effects of oil spills, we have divided them into two categories: environmental effects and economic effects.
Environmental Effects of Oil Spills
The most concerning effects of oil spills are those of an environmental nature. Usually, the animals that live near an oil spill, are the most affected by this type of pollution. They can die instantly by chocking on the oil released around them. Even if they do not die, the oil covers them completely. Which means that they have a hard time floating properly or preserving a normal body temperature.
In the case of very young birds, they run the risk of dying of starvation. That’s because their parents are unable to recognize their body scent, since they are covered in oil. But birds are not the only type of animals that face the negative consequences of oil spills. Fish, sea otters, dolphins, and other sea mammals may also die or become blind because of the exposure to oil.
For example, sea otters have their bodies covered with air bubbles. That way, they can live in cold water and float properly. The problem is that oil can cover those air bubbles. This causes the otters to lose the ability to float, and ultimately die. Oil spills affect killer whales in a similar fashion. Which means that it covers their blowholes until they cannot breathe anymore and die. Whales might also die if they feed on other small organism that have already been affected by an oil spill. So since even smaller organism suffer, it affects the entire food chain.
Furthermore, plants that grow in or near water sources are also negatively affected by oil spills. Since they cover the water sources, light cannot reach plants as easily, which will affect their ability to photosynthesise. Eventually, they will die, and animals will find less and less food sources.
What is even more concerning is that the effects of an oil spill on our environment can last for a really long time. For instance, you could find oil residue in the beach sediments even 30 years after an oil spill. Especially in places where the water doesn’t normally move around and disperse oil, the damage is extremely severe.
Economic Effects of Oil Spills
When we spill oil into the environment, this is a huge economic loss as well. Because it means that the authorities will have to invest a lot of money in cleaning the spill, process which can take a long time to complete. Furthermore, we have to replace the lost oil. This puts a lot of countries in the situation of relying on others to get this resource.
Usually, the people who were responsible for the oil spill also have the duty to clean it up. But since this is such a complicated task, the government has to help out a lot, which puts a strain on the country’s economy.
Not to mention that people’s lives are in danger while cleaning an oil spill. Since they are exposed to such a toxic environment, they face real health issues. The government also has to pay for whatever treatment they might need in the future.
What Can You Do After an Oil Spill?
Once an oil spill happens, there are two main concerns for people who have to deal with it. The first one is to clean the water, and the second one is to take care of the organisms that have been affected due to the spill. There are several ways in which people can clear the water, such as using skimmers, sorbents, chemical dispersants, vacuum trucks, in situ burning, and others.
In what concerns taking care of animals that are suffering because of an oil spill, people who are not specifically trained for this are advised not to try and take care of the matter themselves. However, there are rehabilitation centers that people in the U.S. can call, such as the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research or the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Furthermore, you could also volunteer. For instance, one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees normally volunteers to help wash affected birds in her area.
Summing Everything Up
Oil spills are a great danger for our planet, as we hope we’ve managed to prove above. Since this type of human-caused pollution can affect both human life, the environment, ecosystems, the economy, and so on, it is only natural that we should take more measures to minimize the number of oil spills around the world. At the same time, when we cannot prevent such an occurrence, it is important to act fast and efficient. Not only do we have to clean the water, but we need to rescue the animals that are in danger because of the oil spill as soon as possible.