What Are Oil Spills?- 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?

An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually given to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land.

Oil spills may be due to releases of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs, and wells, as well as spills of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel) and their by-products, heavier fuels used by large ships such as bunker fuel, or the spill of any oily refuse or waste oil.

Oil spills penetrate into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water.

Cleanup and recovery from an oil spill is difficult and depends upon many factors, including the type of oil spilled, the temperature of the water (affecting evaporation and biodegradation), and the types of shorelines and beaches involved. Spills may take weeks, months, or even years to clean up.

Oil spills can have disastrous consequences for society; economically, environmentally, and socially. As a result, oil spill accidents have initiated intense media attention and political uproar, bringing many together in a political struggle concerning government response to oil spills and what actions can best prevent them from happening.

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 their 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 using 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.


What is the largest oil spill in history?

On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon and the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations.

What are oil spills caused by?

Oil spills that happen in rivers, bays and the ocean most often are caused by accidents involving tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, drilling rigs and storage facilities, but also occur from recreational boats and in marinas. Spills can be caused by: people making mistakes or being careless. equipment breaking.

What is the meaning of oil spillage?

oil spill, leakage of petroleum onto the surface of a large body of water.

What are the 5 effects of oil spills?

Oil spills frequently kill marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea otters. 10 Oil can clog blowholes of whales and dolphins, making it impossible for them to breathe properly and disrupting their ability to communicate. Oil coats fur of otters and seals, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia.

What is a famous oil spill?

The largest accidental oil spill in history began in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, after a surge of natural gas blasted through a cement well cap that had recently been installed to seal a well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

Is oil spill a man-made disaster?

Oil spills are some of the most familiar man-made disasters, devastating to people, the environment, animals and global socioeconomics. 2010 saw the worst and largest oil spill: the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

How do oil spills harm the environment?

Spilled oil can harm the environment in several ways, including the physical damages that directly impact wildlife and their habitats (such as coating birds or mammals with a layer of oil), and the toxicity of the oil itself, which can poison exposed organisms.

What are the two major causes of accidental oil spills?

Oil spills often happen because of accidents, when people make mistakes or equipment breaks down. Other causes include natural disasters or deliberate acts.

What are the effects of oil spills on humans?

Studies of biomarkers have uncovered irreparable harm to humans exposed to oil and gas from spills. These effects can be grouped into respiratory damage, liver damage, decreased immunity, increased cancer risk, reproductive damage and higher levels of some toxics (hydrocarbons and heavy metals).

How do you describe oil spills?

An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually given to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land.

Had a spill Meaning?

To fall or stumble onto the ground. Often used with modifiers like “bad,” “nasty,” “awful,” etc. I’m so scared that my mother is going to have a spill going down those stairs someday and end up breaking a hip. He had a nasty spill on his bicycle on his way home from work.

What is the possible solution of oil spill?

Some other methods employed for safer oil spill clean-ups from the sea are hot water washing or washing with high-pressure water; manual labor; and bioremediation and natural recovery.

How do oil spills affect the economy?

Economic impacts of oil spills generally include cost of clean-up and compensation, damage to agricultural lands, fishery and wildlife. Social impact on the other hand includes community conflicts, violence and frustration which leads to militancy, reduction in tourism and hospitality industries.

What are marine oil spills?

Marine oil spills involve accidental release of oil ranging from various types of crude oil to a large array of refined products, from heavy persistent fuels to light, less persistent, but very toxic fuels.

What is an example of an oil spill?

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in the Prince William Sound in Alaska, spilling over 11 million gallons of oil. The largest marine oil spill in all of U.S. history was the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Why did the Gulf War oil spill happen?

Early reports from Iraqi forces claimed that the spill had been caused by the United States sinking of two oil tankers. The goal of this spill was to impede US troops from attempting beach landings, but in the end the spill simply resulted in over 240 million gallons of crude oil being dumped into the Persian Gulf.

Which bacteria is used to clean up oil spills?

Meet Alcanivorax borkumensis, or A. borkumensis for short. This rod-shaped microbe lives in all of the world’s oceans with a special preference for oil-polluted areas, as it uses hydrocarbon molecules for food.

Which bacteria used to remove oil spills?

A species called Pseudomonas putida is widely used in oil spill decontamination or bioremediation. It is known to break down many aromatic compounds like hydrocarbons.

Who is responsible for oil spills?

Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the owner or operator of a facility from which oil is discharged (responsible party) is liable for the costs associated with the: containment, cleanup, and. damages resulting from the spill.

What are the long-term effects of an oil spill?

Large-scale persistent ecological effects included impacts to deep ocean corals, failed recruitment of oysters over multiple years, damage to coastal wetlands, and reduced dolphin, sea turtle, and seabird populations.

Where do oil spills happen the most?

The Report identifies these “hot spots” for oil spills from vessels: Gulf of Mexico (267 spills) Northeastern U.S. (140 spills) Mediterranean Sea (127 spills).

How long do the effects of oil spills last?

Oil contamination may persist in the marine environment for many years after an oil spill and, in exceptional cases such as salt marshes and mangrove swamps, the effects may be measurable for decades after the event. However, in most cases, environmental recovery is relatively swift and is complete within 2–10 years.

What are dispersants used for?

Dispersants are chemicals that are sprayed on a surface oil slick to break down the oil into smaller droplets that more readily mix with the water. Dispersants do not reduce the amount of oil entering the environment, but push the effects of the spill underwater.

Is spill only for liquid?

The main requirement for spilling something is not that it be liquid, but that it first be in a container of some kind. A banana yogurt can spill in your backpack because it’s in a container; a banana can’t — the peel doesn’t count as a container.

How do oil spills affect tourism?

Analyses found that tourism significantly declined after the spill, even in neighboring Gulf States that were largely free of oil on their beaches. Hotels and restaurants throughout the Gulf experienced difficulty booking events, and Internet search analytics showed a marked decrease in tourism interest in the region.

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