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Oil spills

The map demonstrates eleven of the world’s largest oil spills, obtained from

Oil spills

The amount of oil spilled is miniscule compared to the amount of oil transported each and every day, according to the Mineral Management Service. The figure is estimated at about 0.001 percent. Further, the National Research Council points out that much oil seeps naturally into the sea from offshore oil reserves, even without human interference. The NRC estimates that approximately half of all oil found in the world’s oceans arises from natural processes. Oil spills account for about 12 percent.

Oil spills happen nearly every day; much of the time, the public is unaware, as many are small. About 300 to 500 oil spills occur every year. Once an oil spill occurs, it spreads through water at a rate of half a football field per second, and it’s nearly impossible to control it.

The other issue is produced water resulting from oil drilling. This water, which rises from wells along with crude, contains a toxin known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), known to be toxic to marine life in high concentrations. Shockingly, offshore drilling rigs simply toss this water overboard into the ocean. Land animals exposed to PAH tend to excrete PAH quickly, and exposure to this toxin has been linked to cancer in many species. Even in low concentrations, PAH can cause “birth defects, impaired growth rates and skewed sex ratios,” according to LiveScience.

When oil spills occur, whether onshore or off, effects can be devastating and far-reaching. Birds, mammals and marine life become coated with oil and then poisoned when they attempt to clean themselves. Larger marine life, such as whales, can suffocate if their blowholes become clogged with oil or poisoned when they eat a fish or other creature that has been exposed.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

One of the most famous oil spills in history is the Exxon Valdez oil spill which occurred on March 23, 1989 in Prince William Sound off the Alaskan coast. Estimates indicate that this spill resulted in the death of 2,800 sea otters and 250,000 sea birds. The Exxon Valdez spill impacted 1,300 miles of land and sea and required four years to clean up.

Twenty-plus years after the spill, the area seems to be almost completely recovered, although LiveScience reports that animal populations further up on the food chain are just now beginning to recover their former numbers.

BP Oil spill

The BP Oil Spill, which occurred in 2010 and is also known as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, is the most recently widely-known oil spill. This particular spill drew vast media attention because it flowed for three entire months while BP worked to develop a solution to stop the leak. The Clean Energy Blog reported that tar balls that washed ashore in Louisiana during Tropical Storm Lee have been linked to the BP oil spill, even though Lee didn’t move through the area until over a year after the devastating spill. Official testing is being conducted to determine if the tar balls are, in fact, remnants of the infamous Deepwater Horizon failure.

This news is alarming, according to The Washington Post, because it indicates that the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon incident isn’t degrading as quickly as originally estimated. This, of course, means that resulting effects on the marine ecosystem and marine life could be more detrimental than originally estimated, which can have far-reaching effects as the impacts travel up the food chain.


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