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A beach after an oil spill
An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term often refers to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters. The oil may be a variety of materials, including crude oil, refined petroleum products (such as gasoline or diesel fuel) or by-products, ships' bunkers, oily refuse or oil mixed in waste. Spills take months or even years to clean up.

Oil is also released into the environment from natural geologic seeps on the sea floor. Most human-made oil pollution comes from land-based activity, but public attention and regulation has tended to focus most sharply on seagoing oil tankers.

Environmental effects

The oil penetrates and opens up the structure of the plumage of birds, reducing its insulating ability, and so making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. It also impairs birds' flight abilities, making it difficult or impossible to forage and escape from predators. As they attempt to preen, birds typically ingest oil that covers their feathers, causing kidney damage, altered liver function, and digestive tract irritation. This and the limited foraging ability quickly causes dehydration and metabolic imbalances. Hormonal balance alteration including changes in luteinizing protein can also result in some birds exposed to petroleum. Most birds affected by an oil spill die unless there is human intervention.

Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in similar ways as seabirds. Oil coats the fur of Sea otters and seals, reducing its insulation abilities and leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil causes dehydration and impaired digestions.

Because oil floats on top of water, less light penetrates into the water, limiting the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton. This, as well as decreasing the fauna populations, affects the food chain in the ecosystem.

Methods of cleaning

A US Navy oil spill response team drills with a "Harbour Buster high-speed oil containment system".


A sheen is usually dispersed (but not cleaned up) with detergents which makes oil settle to the bottom. Oils that are denser than water, such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can be more difficult to clean as they make the seabed toxic.

Methods for cleaning up include:
  • Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil
  • Bioremediation Accelerator: Oleophilic, hydrophobic chemical, containing no bacteria, which chemically and physically bonds to both soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons. The bioremedation accelerator acts as a herding agent in water and on the surface, floating molecules to the surface of the water, including solubles such as phenols and BTEX, forming gel-like agglomerations. Non-detectable levels of hydrocarbons can be obtained in produced water and manageable water columns. By overspraying sheen with bioremediation accelerator, sheen is eliminated within minutes. Whether applied on land or on water, the nutrient-rich emulsion, creates a bloom of local, indigenous, pre-existing, hydrocarbon-consuming bacteria. Those specific bacteria break down the hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide, with EPA tests showing 98% of alkanes biodegraded in 28 days; and aromatics being biodegraded 200 times faster than in nature.
  • Controlled burning can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water, if done properly. But it can only be done in low wind, and can cause air pollution.
  • Dispersants act as detergents, clustering around oil globules and allowing them to be carried away in the water. This improves the surface aesthetically, and mobilizes the oil. Smaller oil droplets, scattered by currents, may cause less harm and may degrade more easily. But the dispersed oil droplets infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. Recent research indicates that some dispersants are toxic to corals.
  • Watch and wait: in some cases, nautural attentuation of oil may be most appropriate, due to the invasive nature of facilitated methods of remediation, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Dredging: for oils dispersed with detergents and other oils denser than water.
  • Skimming: Requires calm waters
  • Solidifying


Equipment used includes:
  • Booms: large floating barriers that round up oil and lift the oil off the water
  • Skimmers: skim the oil
  • Sorbents: large absorbents that absorb oil
  • Chemical and biological agents: helps to break down the oil
  • Vacuums: remove oil from beaches and water surface
  • Shovels and other road equipments: typically used to clean up oil on beaches


Prevention

  • Secondary containment - methods to prevent releases of oil or hydrocarbons into environment.
  • Oil Spill Prevention Containment and Countermeasures (SPCC) program by the United Statesmarker Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Double hulling - build double hulls into vessels, which reduces the risk and severity of a spill in case of a collision or grounding. Existing single-hull vessels can also be rebuilt to have a double hull.


Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) Mapping[24118]

NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration[24119]

Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps are used to identify sensitive shoreline resources prior to an oil spill event in order to set priorities for protection and plan cleanup strategies. By planning spill response ahead of time, the impact on the environment can be minimized or prevented. Environmental sensitivity index maps are basically comprised of information within the following three categories: shoreline type, and biological and human-use resources.

Shoreline Type

Shoreline type is classified by rank depending on how easy the oil would be to cleanup, how long the oil would persist, and how sensitive the shoreline is . The floating oil slicks put the shoreline at particular risk when they eventually come ashore, covering the substrate with oil. The differing substrates between shoreline types vary in their response to oiling, and influence the type of cleanup that will be required to effectively decontaminate the shoreline. In 1995, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extended ESI maps to lakes, rivers, and estuary shoreline types . The exposure the shoreline has to wave energy and tides, substrate type, and slope of the shoreline are also taken into account – in addition to biological productivity and sensitivity. The productivity of the shoreline habitat is also taken into account when determining ESI ranking . Mangroves and marshes tend to have higher ESI rankings due to the potentially long-lasting and damaging effects of both the oil contamination and cleanup actions. Impermeable and exposed surfaces with high wave action are ranked lower due to the reflecting waves keeping oil from coming onshore, and the speed at which natural processes will remove the oil.

Biological Resources

Habitats of plants and animals that may be at risk from oil spills are referred to as “elements” and are divided by functional group. Further classification divides each element into species groups with similar life histories and behaviors relative to their vulnerability to oil spills. There are eight element groups: Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Fish, Invertebrates, Habitats and Plants, Wetlands, and Marine Mammals and Terrestrial Mammals. Element groups are further divided into sub-groups, for example, the ‘marine mammals’ element group is divided into dolphins, manatees, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions & walruses), polar bears, sea otters and whales. Issues taken into consideration when ranking biological resources include the observance of a large number of individuals in a small area, whether special life stages occur ashore (nesting or molting), and whether there are species present that are threatened, endangered or rare.

Human-Use Resources

Human use resources are divided into four major classifications; archaeological importance or cultural resource site, high-use recreational areas or shoreline access points, important protected management areas, or resource origins. Some examples include airports, diving sites, popular beach sites, marinas, natural reserves or marine sanctuaries.

Estimating the volume of a spill

By observing the thickness of the film of oil and its appearance on the surface of the water, it is possible to estimate the quantity of oil spilled. If the surface area of the spill is also known, the total volume of the oil can be calculated.

Oil spill model systems are used by industry and government to assist in planning and emergency decision making. Of critical importance for the skill of the oil spill model prediction is the adequate description of the wind and current fields. There is a worldwide oil spill modelling (WOSM) program.

Film thickness Quantity spread
Appearance in mm gal/sq mi L/ha
Barely visible 0.0000015 0.0000380 25 0.370
Silvery sheen 0.0000030 0.0000760 50 0.730
First trace of color 0.0000060 0.0001500 100 1.500
Bright bands of color 0.0000120 0.0003000 200 2.900
Colors begin to dull 0.0000400 0.0010000 666 9.700
Colors are much darker 0.0000800 0.0020000 1332 19.500


Largest oil spills

Oil spills of over 100,000 tonnes or 30 million US gallons, ordered by tonnes
Spill / Tanker Location Date *Tonnes of crude oil Reference
Gulf War oil spill Persian Gulfmarker January 21, 1991 1,360,000–1,500,000
Ixtoc I oil wellmarker Gulf of Mexicomarker June 3, 1979–March 23, 1980 454,000–480,000
Atlantic Empress / Aegean Captain Trinidad and Tobagomarker July 19, 1979 287,000
Fergana Valleymarker Uzbekistanmarker March 2, 1992 285,000
Nowruz oil field Persian Gulfmarker February 1983 260,000
ABT Summer off Angolamarker 1991 260,000
Castillo de Bellver Saldanha Baymarker, South Africa August 6, 1983 252,000
Amoco Cadiz Brittany, Francemarker March 16, 1978 223,000
Amoco Haven tanker disaster Mediterranean Seamarker near Genoamarker, Italymarker 1991 144,000
Odyssey off Nova Scotiamarker, Canadamarker 1988 132,000
Sea Star Gulf of Omanmarker December 19, 1972 115,000
Torrey Canyonmarker Scilly Islesmarker, UKmarker March 18, 1967 80,000–119,000
Irenes Serenade Navarino Bay, Greecemarker 1980 100,000
Urquiola A Coruñamarker, Spainmarker May 12, 1976 100,000
Exxon Valdez Gulf of Alaskamarker March 24, 1989 35,000
One tonne of crude oil is roughly equal to 308 US gallons, or 7.33 barrels.


Shown for comparison


See also



References

  1. http://seeps.geol.ucsb.edu/
  2. C. Michael Hogan (2008) Magellanic Penguin, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
  3. Dunnet, G., Crisp, D., Conan, G., Bourne, W. (1982) "Oil Pollution and Seabird Populations [and Discussion]" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. B 297(1087): 413–427
  4. Untold Seabird Mortality due to Marine Oil Pollution, Elements Online Environmental Magazine.
  5. http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/540.html
  6. http://www.epa.gov/oilspill/ncp/bagents.htm
  7. http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/content/ncp/products/s200.htm
  8. Oil Spills
  9. Barry, Carolyn (2007). Slick Death: Oil-spill treatment kills coral, Science News vol. 172, p. 67.
  10. NOAA (2002). Environmental Sensitivity Index Guidelines, version 3.0. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS OR&R 11. Seattle: Hazardous Response and Assessment Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 129p.
  11. Gundlach, E.R. and M.O. Hayes (1978). Vulnerability of Coastal Environments to Oil Spill Impacts. Marine Technology Society. 12 (4): 18-27.
  12. NOAA (2008). Introduction to Environmental Sensitivity Index maps. NOAA Technical Manual. Seattle: Hazardous Response and Assessment Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 56p.
  13. IMO/IPIECA (1994). Sensitivity Mapping for Oil Spill Response. International Maritime Organization/ International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association Report Series, Volume 1. 22p.
  14. Metcalf & Eddy. Wastewater Engineering, Treatment and Reuse. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. 98.
  15. Anderson, E.L., E. Howlett, K. Jayko, V. Kolluru, M. Reed, and M. Spaulding. 1993. The worldwide oil spill model (WOSM): an overview. Pp. 627–646 in Proceedings of the 16th Arctic and Marine Oil Spill Program, Technical Seminar. Ottawa, Ontario: Environment Canada.
  16. {{cite web|url=http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/book_shelf/26_spilldb.pdf. Retrieved 2008-03-10. (PDF) Oil Spill Case Histories 1967 – 1991, Report No. HMRAD 92-11. Seattle: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. September 1992. p. 80.


Further reading

  • The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004
  • Oil Spill Case Histories 1967-1991, NOAA/Hazardous Materials and Response Division, Seattle WA, 1992
  • Nelson-Smith, Oil Pollution and Marine Ecology, Elek Scientific, London, 1972; Plenum, New York, 1973


External links




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