Oil spill is a type of pollution that occurs on water as well as on land. It occurs largely as a result of human activity such as exploration, transport of oil and in some cases illegal waste oil dumping into water bodies mainly oceans. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes can also contribute to oil spills from oil rigs and wells.
Oil spills have wide ranging impacts on the following areas:
1) Impact on aquatic life
a) Effects on sea birds
When oil penetrates the plumage of sea birds it affects their insulating process interfering with their ability to adapt to temperature fluctuations.
b) Effects on sea mammals
Oil in the sea can make mammals get hypothermia, this refers to reduction in body temperature which can lead to their death. Oils can also blind certain animals reducing their ability to avoid predators and they may be killed, which can lead to species being endangered.
c) Effect on fish
At the Gulf of Mexico, where seven large oil spills have occurred during recent times. Studies by scientists on a variety of fish larvae suggests that ingestion of both oil spills have had adverse effects, including mutations, physiological problems and increased fish mortality.
2) Impact on tourism industry
When an oil spill reaches the beach, the oil coats and clings to rocks and the grains of sand surrounding it.Water bodies polluted by oil are no longer favorable for activities such as sailing, swimming and fishing and hence tourists tend stay away.
3) Impact on economy
When oil is lost through spills there is a reduction in the amount of oil available to carry out industrial activities and therefore directly affects the production industry eventually affecting businesses in this sector. Oil spills are very expensive to clean up even when the people responsible agree to contribute in financing the process the government still has to participate.
Observations and scientific investigations found that oil contamination in Ogoniland in Nigeria was widespread and had severely impacted many components of the environment.
According to the United Nations report published in 2011(UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland) Succession of oil spills by Shell and other companies over half a century will cost $1bn to clean up.
4) Impact on human life
A report by the American Public Health Association indicated that the gulf oils spill which is so far the worst oil spill incident in the United States of America affected a number of response workers, the health issues involving respiratory, eye and skin irritation. Oil Spills can also cause illness to people who eat the contaminated seafood or drink the water in the affected water body.
Oil spills are hard to predict and control however enacting laws can make companies and individuals both transporters and oil users more mindful in their activities hence preventing oil spill incidences. An example of such a regulation is the Ocean Pollution Act, passed in 1990 by the United States congress which laws include:
1. Navigation: The law states that the Coast Guard must know where oil tankers can navigate through without a spill occurring and enforcing it.
2. Emergency response plans. Oil transporters must have a well written plan of what actions they will take in case an oil spill occurs.
3. Spill funds: Oil companies pay certain amounts of money to the government so that in case of a spill, the government can pay for a clean-up.
4. Double hulls: All ships transporting hulls must have double hulls before 2015. Double hulls reduce the possibility of oil spills during transport by 60% as compared to single hull ships