Oil Spills: Definition, Types, Causes, and Effect

Oil spills are not a very common term but a serious form of environmental pollution. When we are trying to address all kinds of environmental issues then oil spills are a major area that we should not leave.

Thus, dealing with what is an oil spill, its various types, causes, effects, and the worst 10 oil spills that have occurred in the world.

What is oil spills?

As the term suggests, it is the release or migration of oil into the sea or any other water body. In other words, It can be defined as contamination of water bodies caused by oil spills caused by human negligence or an accident. The term oil spill is usually associated with marine oil spills where oil is discharged directly into the deep sea.

It includes any type of crude oil or any type of distilled oil such as kerosene, lubricating oil, diesel fuel, gasoline, hydraulic oil, and jet fuel. This oil spill can be several gallons to millions of gallons.

The cost of cleaning these spills is very high and may take months and years. The Oil Leak Act was passed in 1990 and it was amended in 1994 to prepare and prevent oil spills.

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Oil Spills

Types of Oil Spills

  • Class A Oil: Class A oil is the most poisonous oil. It is light and spreads quite easily. It has a very strong smell. This type of oil soaks into the soil and is easily mixed with water. Crude oil, jet fuel, and gasoline are covered under Class A oil. It adversely affects marine life and humans.
  • Class B Oil: Class A oil is less toxic than Class A oil. These are non-viscous oils that can cause prolonged contamination and are highly flammable. Kerosene, low oil, and low-quality crude oil fall into this category.
  • Class C Oil: Class C oil is a thick and heavy oil that does not penetrate or spread quickly in water and soil. They form a sticky film on the surface and cause severe contamination. Variants of crude oil, bunker B, and bunker C oil fall into this category.
  • Class D Oil: Class D oil is considered solid oil. Those are the least toxic oils that harden when heated. Cleaning this oil is impossible.
  • Non-petroleum Oil: Non-petroleum oil is a tiny type of oil that easily enters into soil and water and causes serious damage. Synthetic oils derived from animal and plant fats fall into this category.
Types of Oil Spills

What are the causes of oil spills?

  • Natural Causes: Some oil spills occur due to natural causes. Sometimes oil can seep from the ocean floor when sedimentary rocks eroded by the natural process at the bottom of the ocean floor.
  • Human causes: Oil spreads due to various man-made reasons.
  • Negligence and lack of awareness
  • Lack of proper technology
  • Leakage during transport and storage
  • Lack of proper maintenance of oil vessels
  • Due to accidents

What are Effects of Oil Spills?

Oil Spill Effects on Marine life

The oil spill has a negative effect on marine animals. Since most oils float in water, the sun’s absorbing capacity of water decreases. Thus, the stopping capacity of oxygen and the percentage of oxygen in water are reduced.

It affects marine animals because there is less oxygen in the water. Due to water pollution, the resistance of marine animals is reduced which leads to its death. The fertility of females is reduced due to pollution which will lead to the extinction of the species.

Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins are also affected because the oil stops their poaching, making it impossible for animals to breathe. Their ability to communicate is also affected due to the oil spill. Most plants are affected by the oil spill and they disappear from the sea bed. It affects the global food chain.

Oil Spills Effect on Environment:

Oil spills are serious environmental pollution. Many toxins are released into the atmosphere and soil. When the oil is spilled, the soil absorbs it. This in turn mixes with the water table below.

Natural vegetation, agriculture, plants, shrubs, and even trees are affected because they absorb this toxic water. Thus, the whole becomes unsuitable due to infertility.

The birds’ natural habitat, nests, and breeding grounds are disrupted due to oil spills on the ground. It can also be fatal for birds flying oil. Birds are sometimes coated with oil which makes them susceptible to hypothermia (fluctuations in body temperature) and reduces the ability to fly. Prayers are also coated with oil that damages internal organs when consumed by birds.

Top 10 Worst Oil Spills

  • Gulf War oil spill in the year 1991 – 1,360,000 – 1,500,000 tones (8 million barrels).
  • Ixtoc oil well- 454,000 tons were spread in the Gulf of Mexico due to the explosion in the oil well in the year 1979
  • Atlantic Empire – 287,000 tons were spread when this oil tanker crashed into another ship in the Caribbean Sea in 1979.
  • Fargana Valley – In the year 1992, 285,000 tones were spread over the land.
  • Nruz oil field – 260,000 tons were scattered when a tanker collided during the first war in 1983.
  • In 1991, ABT Summer – 260,000 tons were spread due to leakage on the Angolan coast.
  • Castillo de Belver- In Cape Town in 1983, an explosion of an oil tanker caused 252,000 tons to spill.
  • Amoko Cadiz – 223,000 tons flew when the ship sank in France in 1978.
  • In 1991, 175,000 tons were spread due to the explosion in Italy.
  • Odyssey – 132,000 tons spilled when oil tankers split in two in Nova Scotia in 193.

There are large reserves of oil under our planet Earth. These have to be used wisely without wastage and leakage. Negligence and accidents cause very permanent damage to the environment and marine life.

This can only be prevented by creating awareness among those who work in the industry and use appropriate advanced technology. Cleaning the oil spill is near impossible and can take years. Several factors need to be considered such as the quantity of oil, type of water, temperature and depth of water and oil type and so on.

All these toxins can prove to be fatal. Oil spill often occurs. According to reports, eight million barrels are wasted and spread every year due to negligence and accidents. Most spall is found in water which affects marine life as a whole.

This pollution is life-taking and cannot be reversed. Some common methods used to clean oil spills use biological agents or bioremediation, controlled water that causes oil depletion in water, using oil spill products, dredging, skimming, and freezing.

Some of the equipment used during the cleaning process are biological agents, vacuum, sorbets, shovels and booms, and skimmers.

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