How Do Oil Spills Happen?

Cleaning up an oil spill in Thailand.

An oil spill involves the discharge of oil or petroleum products into the environment. The term usually refers to oil spills in the ocean or sea leading to marine pollution. However, terrestrial oil spills are also common but are less hazardous than those occurring in the sea.

Largest Oil Spills

Over the recent years, accidents from tankers and other sources of oil have been experienced in various places. Some of the areas in the world where such accidents have happened include the Gulf of Mexico, the Sundarbans, Alaska, and the Galapagos Islands among many other regions. The spills have ranged from small volumes of oil to spills of enormous volumes. These accidents have led to disastrous impacts on the ecosystem. The 1991 Persian Gulf War led to the burning of many oil wells during which millions of barrels of oil were burnt. The Exxon Valdez, as well as Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also witnessed massive damages. The sources of oil spills range from oil tankers to oil wells. Pipelines may also develop cracks causing oil transported through them to leak. However, such accidents have declined over the past decades.

Impact Of Oil Spills

Oil spills cause massive damage to the environment. The Kuwaiti oil fires led to air pollution which caused respiratory problems in many people. Besides, oil fires have led to deaths of many people such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion which killed 47 people and injured many others. Also, oil spills result in water pollution which may contaminate drinking water. Aquatic fauna and fauna often die in large numbers during such tragic events.

Oil spills adversely affect the economy of the region of occurrence. Tourism and marine resources are negatively affected by oil spills, consequently, driving away tourists and investors. Fires resulting from spills also lead to massive losses to the industry.

Prevention And Recovery

The clean up of oil spills is difficult and depends on factors such as the temperature of water, type of oil spilled, and type of beach/shoreline affected. Some of the clean-up methods which may be employed are dredging, vacuum cleaning, controlled burning, among other measures.


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