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Oil Spills and Environmental Effects

written by: Jenny Griffin•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 2/16/2012

It is a fact that oil spills are causing extensive damage to both sea life and wild animals and significant planning and stringent laws are needed to overcome this enormous challenge

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    Oil spill, in simpler terms, means spillage of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment as a result of human activity. Oil spills primarily occurs in the seas or coastal belts where various types of oil including crude oil, gasoline and other oil waste, get released.

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    Damages caused to sea life

    Oil spills cause extensive damage both short term and long term - to ocean depths, sea creatures and coastal fishing. The immediate effect of oil spillage is large-scale death of several sea creatures and contamination of fish and other sea food species, but the long-term ecological effects may have an alarming cascading effect. Oil waste damages the sensitive marine and coastal organic substrate, affects the food chain on which fish and sea creatures depend.

    Apart from fish and sea creatures, oil spill endangers sea mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds that live in or near the ocean. It is a fact that seabirds are seriously affected by oil spills. Seabirds get covered with thick and heavy black oil incapacitating the birds from flying. The bird naturally eats the oil trying to clean its feathers and thereby consumes poison.

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    The effects of oil spill on wildlife

    All types of oil such as crude oil, bunker fuels, non-sticky oils, and refined petroleum products can seriously imperil wildlife. Crude oil/Bunker fuels affect sea birds and marine mammals adversely but one cannot neglect the impact of poison produced by refined petroleum product. Presence of oil in the environment or oil that is ingested can cause poisoning of wildlife, interference with breeding process, congestion of lungs of marine mammals and turtles, damage to a marine mammal's immune system, damage to red blood cells and a host of other problems. (Source: Effect of Oil on Wildlife)

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    Preventing oil spills

    The best method to tackle environmental damage caused by oil spills is to drastically minimize oil spills in the first place. Many Environment Protection Agencies (EPAs) have drawn up elaborate programs aimed at oil spill prevention and oil spill control. EPA also oversees the oil spill offences and enforces the penalty provisions under the Oil Pollution Act. EPA also conducts surprise on-site checks to ensure that the legal requirements are strictly followed. There is no denying that oil spills continue to occur both in land and water despite best efforts to prevent them.

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    Many government organizations like the Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency have passed laws to prevent contamination through oil spills. The law enjoins companies to repair and renovate old equipments that carry oil. The law punishes the company responsible for spilling the oil pay for cleaning it up.

    To successfully combat oil spillage calls for effective planning and special training. The two chief areas of EPA's oil spill programs are developing contingency plans for oil spill prevention and response training.


    Other Resources: Preparing for Spills