Oil Spills

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Oil Spills


Oil spills refer to the release of oil (liquid petroleum hydrocarbon) onto land or into water. The release can be accidental and due to human activity; the most well-known example is the loss of crude oil, a processed oil product such as gasoline or diesel fuel from a tanker following an accident near a seacoast or coast of a large freshwater river or lake. More commonly, oil spills are the result of the leakage of oil or oily liquid from ships during their normal operation, and from runoff of oily wastes from the land into the water. Oil spills can also occur naturally and are the result of the seepage of oil from a seafloor deposit. (Swan, 143)

The environmental consequences of an oil spill can be devastating. Animals and birds are killed if they ingest the oil, and the oily coating on the fur or feathers can prove to be lethal. Also, the oily fouling of coastal beaches and vegetation can take months to remove, and can disrupt normal ecological functions for years. This paper discusses the effects of oil spills on the environment and or the economy of the region.


Ever since “black gold” was first discovered to possess superior qualities as a fuel for lighting, heating and transportation, it has posed daunting shipping and storage problems. Because both crude oil and its refined products are liquid, oil spills have gone hand in hand with petroleum use. (Burger, 15)

Beginning in the 1850s, oil's main value was as a lighting fuel. Refined into kerosene, oil was to radically alter life in the United States and Europe. Even before Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent light bulb three decades later, kerosene lighting allowed industrial production to continue in spite of darkness for the first time. But kerosene is highly volatile, and it often exploded during transportation and use. Such enormous capacity enabled supertankers to slash shipping costs, encouraging the world's growing dependence on oil. And when the next oil crises did occur, in 1967, 1973 and 1979-80, transportation was no longer the issue, but rather pricing and availability. (Carls, 167-190)

Major Oil Spills and Their Effects

The United States uses 7.14 billion barrels (300 billion gallons) of crude oil each year (including refined petroleum products and biofuels). Only China uses more oil. In 2008 the United States imported about 58 percent of its annual oil consumed. Oil transport from tankers and pipelines is a major source of non-natural oil spills (e.g., oil seeps from geologic formations). Oil from small boats, vehicles, and street run-off can also create minor spills.

From 2000 to 2009 an average of 24 tons (21.8 metric tons) of oil was spilled annually (based on spills of at least 7.7 tons). The International Convention for Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) in 1954 acknowledged the potential pollution of the oceans by oil and prohibited the dumping of oil near land and in specified areas. The 1973 and 1978 International Conventions for the Prevention of Pollution ...
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