The Effects of an Oil Spill

The following magazine article project was created for a professional writing class.

Marinephotobank, Flickr

Marinephotobank, Flickr

An Oil Spill is detrimental in a variety of ways – causing a cascade effect – that affects both the ecological and economical aspects of the local area and across the nation.

Oil is hazardous to the health of local workers, residents, and wildlife. It is also linked to rising costs of oil, gas,

food, and other items that require extensive transportation. The fishing industry can be horribly affected causing a decline in seafood and a loss of jobs for the fishers in the area afflicted by the spill.

People across the nation will feel the sting of a large oil spill that occurs in the nation. Some will feel the effects from oil spills that happen overseas as well. What an oil spill’s impact will be depends on a number of questions.

Some of the determining factors considered when a specialist looks at an oil spill, to predict what the setbacks and outcomes of the spill will be are: where the oil spill is happening, how much oil is spilling out, what type of oil is spilling, how long will it take to be fixed, how far will it go, what the weather is like, how close will it get to shore, and what the current is like in the area affected.

The impact of an oil spill is impossible to predict however, since many of the variables can change during a spill. An example of this is, if the current or weather changes, the spill’s path of spread will change The 2010 BP leak, which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Exxon Valdez, which occurred in Prince William sound, Alaska, is examples of oil spills that happened in America. The effects of these two oil spills varied between the two. Both were very severe spills, with a large amount of oil being released into very sensitive environments. The predictions of both were significantly negative.

Weather played a huge role in both as well. In the case of the Valdez, we saw the weather as a cause for the destructiveness of the oil as it was pushed by the wind back onto the shorelines in Alaska. But in the BP Gulf spill the weather cooperated, and what was earlier predicted to be one of the worst oil spills in history turned out less detrimental than predicted. Less oil made it into the wetlands and swamps surrounding the area than previously thought would happen. In the Valdez oil spill, the clean-up of the shoreline became the primary goal. In the BP gulf spill the clean-up goal was to prevent the oil slick from reaching shorelines. Another large difference in the two spills is how the oil was released into the environment. The Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef that caused about 11 million gallons of heavy crude to be released at the surface of the water. This oil was then carried to the shorelines by the current. In the BP Gulf spill, an explosion took place on the oil rig. This explosion killed 11 workers. The oil rig sank, and oil was released from three different areas of pipeline at the sea floor level. This spill released about 205.8 million gallons of light crude oil that affected every level of the sea as it rose from the floor up to the surface. Clean-up was easier than was the case in the Valdez oil spill. However clean-up was still a hard, difficult task and a lot was still contaminated and will remain contaminated for many years to come.

When an oil spill occurs, experts are brought in to examine more closely the area, the effects the oil has on the environment, the wildlife, and the communities surrounding them.

Wildlife is hugely affected since the areas that are affected are where they live and breed. Some sea life common to the Gulf of Mexico includes: shrimp, oysters, hammerhead sharks, and blue fin tuna. Blue fin tuna spawn in the spring months, and their eggs can be damaged by the oil. Plankton is also destroyed by the oil slick, because it cannot move away from it. This is a food source for many other species. Oil is sticky, some more than others, so it sticks to whatever comes into contact with it. Wildlife such as birds and seal are more susceptible to this because of their fur and feathers. These animals can drown from oil sticking to them. Birds will be unable to fly, because of the inability to trap enough air between their feathers. Hypothermia is also a concern, because it destroys the insulation these animals’ skin and feathers create. Birds can also become dehydrated or starve to death, when they become ensnared in oil. They often just give up looking for food, or reduce the fluids they take in. The oil spill can lead to infections, organ damage or failure, stress, damage to the immune system, damage to the airways and lungs, interference with breeding habits, decrease in thickness of egg shells, and more.

Other sea life such as fish are attracted to an oil slick because it looks like food floating on the surface, this in turn can poison the food chain further down when these fish are then eaten by other larger sea life. Whales and dolphins have often been spotted swimming near oil slicks, and can become poisoned by taking in the water or food sources nearby. The young and unborn/unhatched are can also be damaged greatly by
an oil slick.

How does an oil spill affect the communities and the people? Health issues are now popping up among residents in the communities surrounding the oil spill, and workers who aided in clean-up efforts. People are beginning to have some of the signs and symptoms often seen with exposure to crude oil. Much is still unknown about the long term health issues contributed to an oil spill, because so little has been done on this study.

Some of the signs and symptoms of long term exposure – depending on the type of exposure – from crude oil are: skin erythema, edema, dermatitis, skin infections, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, confusion, chemical pneumonitis, watery or itchy eyes, nosebleeds, respiratory problems and more.

Other economic concerns surrounding an oil spill are: effect on tourism, the energy industry, and the loss of jobs. The concern with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was the effect it would have on the fishing industry and the potential for a huge job loss for the fishers in the area. The extent of damage to the local communities and residents is at times obvious, and sometimes not as obvious. But how does this affect me, you ask? Maybe you live thousands of miles from any area that has been directly affected by an oil spill.

Rising prices attributed to an oil spill can be a huge impact on people across the nation. With a loss of an oil rig and oil, and diminished seafood coming from suppliers because of the area impacted by the oil spill, prices of both will rise considerably. The economical energy sources can also rise for the same reason, charging higher prices for the consumer, you. An oil spill impact’s everyone in some way.

For further information:

1. “The Effects of Oil on Wildlife,” Australian Maritime Safety Authority 2012.
2. “Lessons Learned from the Two Worst Oil Spills in U.S. History,” Berkeley Lab, News Center 18 Aug 2011.
3. “Effects of Oil Spills on Marine Life,”, Marine Life 2012.
4. “Video: The Gulf Oil Spill: Effects on Marine Life,” Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History 2010.
5. “Oil Spill’s Economic Impact Mostly Local,” 28 June 2010.
6. “Oil Spills & the Effects on the Economy,” 2012.
7. “A Year After the Spill, “Unusual” Rise in Health Problems,” National Geographic, Daily News 20 April 2011.
8. “Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Light Crude Oil Information for Health Professionals,” CDC 2011.
9. “Gulf Oil Spill Surprises: 6 Things Experts Got Wrong,” National Geographic Daily News 19 April 2011.
10. “Assessing the Health Effects of the Oil Spill,” Time Health 25 June 2010.


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