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An oil spill is an uncontrollable discharge of liquid petroleum substances into the environment because of burst pipes, tankers, or underground wells (“The Chemistry of Oil Spills” Para. 1). Since “oil contains over 300 chemical substances,”, spills have significant effects on the environment (“Project Oceanography” 34). This paper summarises two sources that discuss the causes, effects, and ways of preventing oil spills.
The first source distinguishes four major causes of oil spillage incidents in the world. First, equipment (oil tankers) damage due to abrasive objects can allow petroleum products to leak directly into oceans and seas (“The Chemistry of Oil Spills” Para. 1). Second, certain human activities such as drilling can cause the oil to seep into the ocean floor. Third, oil spills can occur during water sports.
The jets and motorboats used during water skiing events release used fuel, which cause oil spills. Fourth, offshore drilling releases petroleum products into the ocean, which cause pollution. On the other hand, the second source attributes oil spills to “damaged tankers and natural seepages from seabed deposits” (“Project Oceanography” 31). Oil spills cause water pollution, which affects birds, sea creatures, and other animals that make up the food chain.
Petroleum products from damaged pipes have a huge impact on oceanic flora and fauna. Spills cause hypothermia and blinding, which make animals vulnerable to predators. They also poison vital organs such as the lungs and liver leading to death. The first source identifies two categories of organisms affected by oil spills: (1) sea animals (fauna) and (2) ocean plants (“The Chemistry of Oil Spills” Para. 6).
About ocean fauna, oil spills affect sea birds, which ingest oil contained in the contaminated water. The oil affects the ability of birds to hunt, as it covers the bird’s plumage making it unable to control its movements. It also affects their ability to regulate body temperature, which leads to death.
The other sea animals that are vulnerable to oil spillages are the otters. The oil affects their buoyancy on the sea, which is their natural environment. The discharge from oil disasters also blocks whales’ “blowholes” and thus, hampers their ability to breathe or swim (“The Chemistry of Oil Spills” Para. 7).
It also contaminates their food (fish) leading to death. Small animals and plants such as planktons, seaweeds, and oysters, among others, are also vulnerable to oils spills. Moreover, sea plants cannot obtain sufficient oxygen since air is insoluble in oil. As a result, they are unable to photosynthesize to produce food for organisms higher up in the food chain.
Project Oceanography also identifies the most vulnerable organisms as “birds, sea otters, marine plants, and humans” (32). On land, oil leaks kill soil microorganisms (earthworms), wildlife, and sea birds. Oil also poisons animal food and suffocates sea creatures by reducing the amount of air dissolved in seawater.
Oil spills can be removed from the ocean using a combination of biological, physical, and chemical methods. According to Project Oceanography, the cleanups of oil spills involve a combination of several methods. The first method involves the use of cold water to “wash off the oil and recover it using skimmers” (“Project Oceanography” 34).
Warm ‘pressurised’ water can also be used to wash off the oil layer. Firms also use ‘storm-berm’ relocation method, which involves “mechanical relocation of oil,” which accumulates during high tide (“Project Oceanography” 34). The other method is bioremediation, which involves the use of oil-degrading bacteria. Oil spills can also be cleaned manually, but this method is relatively slow.
Project Oceanography also notes that oil spills can be cleaned chemically using three reagents. These include dispersants, emulsifiers, and surfactants. Dispersants remove the oil by breaking it up into small molecules, while emulsifiers prevent the formation of an oil layer on the water surface (“Project Oceanography” 35). On the other hand, surfactants separate the oil droplets from the water molecules.
Project Oceanography: Unit IV. Problems and Solutions 2008. Web. 03 May 2014. <http://www.marine.usf.edu/pjocean/packets/sp99/sp99u4le3.pdf>.
The Chemistry of Oil Spills: Causes and Effects of Oil Spills 2010. Web. 03 May 2014. <http://oilsplat.wordpress.com/about/>