Oil spills happen very frequently, yet only the largest oil spills make it to the news. For instance, this report, which only takes into account the oil spills that have a spill volume or amount of over 1,000 litres, states that there are about 22 oil spills that happen in Canada and the USA every single day.
The worrying thing is, that’s just the number of oil spills in navigable waters, there are other spills happening on land and in freshwater.
While oil spill cleanup technology has truly come very far, the adverse effects of oil spills can still last for a very long time. For example, the 1989 Exxon Valdez was so large that it became prominent news and was followed up with massive clean-up efforts. Yet, a study conducted back in 2007 revealed that there was still almost 100,000 litres of oil deposited in the Alaska shoreline. The study determined that the residual oil was receding at less than 4% annually.
The persistence of oil is, however, not the only impact an oil spill has on the environment. Here are a few others:
Consequences For Wildlife
An oil spill covers everything it touches. We’ve all seen pictures of seabirds, fishes, and other aquatic animals being covered in black colored oil.
Let’s begin with birds. The oil from an oil spill can get under the feathers of a bird and completely take away their ability to fly. As a result of this, many birds are unable to find proper shelter and nutrition and end up in an agonizing and often fatal situation.
Similarly, the oil from an oil spill is also known to clog the blowholes of marine animals like dolphins. When this happens, it compromises their ability to breathe and communicate with each other through echolocation techniques.
Mammals that live around water can also be fatally affected if they come in contact with the oil from an oil spill. The oil can get under their insulated fur, diminishing their ability to withstand the cold weather.
These consequences aren’t limited to the individual animals that come in contact with the oil. Most oil spills have the potential to completely disrupt the ecosystem of any place, while also disrupting other natural processes like migration patterns and reproductive abilities.
Consequences For Humans
For most ecosystems on the planet, there are at least some humans dependent on them. When an oil spill affects the wildlife and the plant life of an ecosystem, it is not difficult to imagine that it will also adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of the humans that depend on the ecosystem.
For instance, an oil spill in 2013 disrupted the water supply of over 300,000 people in Malaysia. Oil spills don’t just have water related consequences. They have also been known to release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, adversely affecting the air quality of an area.
Another consequence of oil spills was discovered when a 2019 study revealed that oil spills were responsible for increasing the neonatal mortality rate of Nigeria by 38.3% per 1,000 live births. The study also revealed that such effects, just like the oil in the ecosystem, persist for a long time after the actual oil spill happens.
Creating awareness about oil spills is perhaps the best thing we can do to minimise their impact on the environment and in turn, our lives. Nowadays, there are plenty of technological solutions available to cleanup oil spills using environmentally friendly and sustainable methods.