Oil Spill

It is important to understand that there are large reserves of oil and gas below the Earth's surface. From time to time, these reserves develop cracks allowing some of the oil or gas to escape. However, this is part of nature, a natural phenomenon that rarely causes major damages to the surrounding ecosystems. On the other hand, when similar situations arise due to human intrusion it can cause a considerable deal of damage to marine ecosystems. Conserve Energy Future (CEF) explains that "An oil spill happens when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline. It happens due to human negligence and is a major form of pollution." It is important to understand the short and long term effects it can have on our environment.


oil spill off of a beach

Oil spills can result in both immediate and long-term environmental damage. They can damage beaches, marshlands, and fragile aquatic ecosystems. Thought explains that "oil spilled by damaged tankers, pipelines or offshore oil rigs coats everything it touches and becomes an unwelcome but long-term part of every ecosystem it enters." This leads to every grain of sand and rock on a beach becoming covered in oil. Eventually, some of the oil will stop sitting on the surface of the water and sink down into the marine environments. This can contaminate fish as well as other small organisms that are essential to the global food chain.

Oil spills not only affect the environment but it can also kill birds, marine animals like whales and dolphins as well as fish. Any small amount of oil can be detrimental to a bird, it makes it impossible for them to fly but also causes them to lose their waterproofing and insulation causing them to be exposed to hypothermia or overheating. One might think that a bird can simply clean it off, but as it preens their feathers they ingest the oil which can damage their internal organs and eventually lead to death. According to Thoughtco "The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 seabirds, plus a number of shorebirds and bald eagles." Similar to birds, marine animals can also be affected in more ways than one. Oil can clog the blowholes of marine animals making it impossible to breathe. If they are lucky enough to escape the initial damages, an oil spill can cause damages to their food supply; therefore, they can be poisoned and die. The effects an oil spill can have on the animals that live within certain ecosystems can have a ripple effect, changing food chains and killing habitats.


According to LiveScience, the following ten oil spills are the worst ever to be recorded in history.

1. Gulf War oil spill: 1,360,000 -1,500,000 tons - Kuwait in 1991


Ariel view of an oil spill in the water

2. Ixtoc I oil well: 454,000 tons - Gulf of Mexico in June 1979

3. Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain: 287,000 tons - Tobago in the Caribbean Sea July 1979

4. Fergana Valley: 285,000 tons - 1992

5. Nowruz oil field: 260,000 tons - Feb. 10, 1983

6. ABT Summer: 260,000 tons - Angolan coast in 1991

7. Castillo de Bellver: 252,000 tons - Cape Town, August 1983

8. The Amoco Cadiz: 223,000 tons - Brittany, France in 1978

9. The Haven: 145,000 tons- Italy April 1991

10. The Odyssey: 132,000 tons - Nova Scotia, November 1988

These may date back to 23 years ago, but in the last ten years, there have also been a number of oil spills. They may not be of the same magnitude however the effects on the environment in which they are sp