The Menace of Oil Spills and its Impact on the Environment

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The BP Deepwater (DPW) Horizon oil rig explosion at the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, 2010 is considered to be one of the most catastrophic oil spills in US history (Susskind et al. 1). Notably, more than a decade after the explosion, a study by a group of scientists published on the 28th of June 2018 to look into the long-term implications of the oil spill indicates that the implications of the spill will have severe implications in future.

According to the report, although seabirds, other sea creatures, and wildlife, as well as human life, was lost, the research argues that the impact on the microbes is significant and could affect the supply of food later on (Milman 1).

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This report forms the discussion in this paper. The young generation will bear the implications cited by the study in the future. As such, this paper argues that it is imperative that the youth such as high school students should be sensitized so that they may develop means to salvage the situation.

An oil spill refers to an accident (meaning it is usually unanticipated) that leads to the release of large amounts of oil, which might lead to both fatal and non-fatal injuries to people, may cause damage to the environment or may lead to substantial economic losses (Yang 468). As Yang points out, there are several causes of oil spills, but most of the spills are caused by the various activities that humans partake in their interaction with oil (468).

Some of them include drilling, transportation of the oil, for instance when tankers collide with other vehicles, manufacturing, or even just storing the oil (Yang 468). In effect, what this means is that any activity involving oil could lead to an oil spill, subsequently leading to any one of the consequences mentioned above. However, because this paper is concerned mainly with the environmental implications of the oil spills, it will not dwell on the other two effects of the oil spill accidents.

As mentioned above, the BP DPW oil rig explosion accident was one of the worst oil spills in the history of the United States (Susskind et al. 1) the most outstanding thing, however, is that the same accident is considered to be the worst disaster regarding its impact on the environment. In the accident, around 5 million barrels of oil (Hamdan et al. 1) which amounts to 800 million liters thereabouts of unprocessed oil got spilled.

Whenever oil spills occur, there are always cleanup efforts to minimize the damage to the environment. However, the cleanup procedure does not always lead to 100% success; not all the oil is ever retrieved from the environment, whether in the sea or on land. For instance, according to Hamdan et al. (1), about 11-30% of the oil that was spilled during the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion incident has not been accounted for to date. This implies that each time there is an oil spill incident, despite the efforts to clean up the mess, a substantial amount of oil ends remaining in the environment and eventually harming it.

Moreover, given the toxic nature of the components that are used to break down oil during cleanup, the aquatic animals might wind up suffering even more than if they had to contend with oil alone (Chang et al. 3). The point is that oil spills are not a new problem, but a problem that we have failed to take necessary measures to prevent. For example, Briggs states that oil spills are considered to be the most common cause of aqueous pollution, in the United Kingdom as of 2001 (7). It is therefore important to understand the impacts of the oil spills on the environment.

The overall effect of oil spills on the environment is pollution. Environmental pollution refers to the situation where something that is likely to cause some form of harm to either the environment or to the health of people (Briggs 2) is released into the environment. Environmental pollution may range from emitting harmful substances to the atmosphere or releasing the harmful substances to both surface and underground water, as well as into the soil (Briggs 2). The focus of this paper is on releasing oil, the harmful substance, to either surface water, and groundwater or the soil (when the spillage occurs on land).

Oil spills have the potential of altering the ecosystem of the area in which it occurs. This can take place in a variety of ways. The manner in which marine life is structured is very complicated, and while the species interact in different ways (Chang et al. 4). The manner in which they are exposed depends on the amount of oil that they are exposed to (Chang et al. 4); the impacts are worse when the amount of oil spilled is large.

Another factor that will determine the extent of the damage caused by an oil spill to the ecosystem is the chemical composition of the spilled oil. Most importantly, the biological makeup of the species as well as their habitat matters when it comes to the impact (Chang et al. 4) since oil mostly floats on water.

Regardless, the general impacts of oil on the environment include the marine life ingesting the oil, which is toxic to their health as the toxic components of oil will accumulate in their bodies; the DNA of some of the species may end up being damaged; their immune system may be affected; their cardiac system may not function properly; and most of the eggs and larvae will be killed (Chang et al. 4).

Moreover, for plants, oil affects their growth in that they end up growing unsatisfactorily because plants that grow in areas which have not been polluted thrive more compared to those that grow in areas that have been polluted (Kayode et al. 15). Considering that we rely on plants for oxygen supply, this poses a problem the world is one vast ecosystem. Also, the environment around an oil spill especially onshore generally is not pleasing to the see; as such oil spills render the environment ugly to an extent. These impacts on the environment are a concern for everybody.

On the face of it, the impacts of the oil spills seem to be a concern for the government (particularly the department concerned with environmental affairs), the companies that handle oil in one way or the other, and to an extent, the people living in areas where large amounts of oil are either being drilled, manufactured or stored. However, a more in-depth analysis reveals that it is the young population that will suffer the most because most of the subtle consequences of the oil spills will take effect in the future.

Based on the report by Hamdan et al.’s study, the microbes were affected greatly, a state that is likely to affect the supply of food in the future. Moreover, if pollution affects plant growth, owing that plants are the primary source of food, we are staring at a starving future. The world also relies on plants for oxygen; if plants are affected the supply of oxygen will reduce significantly. It is evident that the current young generation will face these future implications.

Notwithstanding, it is some of the current high school students who will become drilling engineers, executives or people in administrative positions in some of the companies that drill, transport, store or even manage waste accruing after oil use. As such, it is necessary and in our interest to familiarize ourselves with the problem of the oil spills as early as now. Unless we understand and internalize how negligence, even of small proportions may lead to disasters, we will never take necessary precautions at all stages of any of the abovementioned activities when handling oil. It is necessary to note that these impacts on the environment are irreversible.

While, accidents cannot be foreseen (in the strict sense of the word), the rate or frequency at which they occur. My working assumption is that when we realize and understand the risk that we will be taking by allowing any room for negligence when handling oil, we will take preventive measures more seriously. Moreover, we are more likely to be committed to developing the necessary means and techniques of handling oil spills once they occur, therefore minimizing the damage. As mentioned earlier, the current dispersants (chemicals used to break oil during cleanup) are very harmful to some of the marine species (Chang et al. 4), hence the need to come up with less harmful dispersants.

The state of the environment is a global concern, considering that it features in both the United Nation’s Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the causes for concern are the rampant oil spills that keep contaminating and damaging the environment in different ways. One problem is that the short-term effects or consequences of the oil spill incidents are usually restricted to the geographic location of the accident (Chang et al. 1).

As such, it is difficult for the rest of the population to grapple with the overall danger that oil spills pose to the environment. The truth is, when the realities of environmental degradation begin to hit home, everybody stands to suffer. A good example is a current calamity with global warming; almost everybody is feeling the effects. Significantly, while it is impossible to revert the environment to the state that it was before the oil spills, it is possible to prevent, or at least minimize the chances of future accidents.

People should be sensitized at such a young age so that the mentality of protecting the environment as far as oil spills are concerned sinks in and potentially causes them to react to the potential threat of environmental degradation through oil spills appropriately. However, as Chang et al. point out, if effective oil management planning is to take place, we need to learn from our mistakes and resolve to fix them so that accidents such as the BP Oil spill do not keep occurring (1). Ultimately, as reiterated in the paper, it is the young generation, a group that encompasses high school students that stands to suffer as a result of past, present and future incidents of oil spills.

Works Cited

  1. Briggs, David. “”Environmental Pollution And The Global Burden Of Disease””. British Medical Bulletin, vol 68, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-24. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/bmb/ldg019.
  2. Chang, Stephanie E. et al. “”Consequences Of Oil Spills: A Review And Framework For Informing Planning””. Ecology And Society, vol 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 1-25. Resilience Alliance, Inc., doi:10.5751/es-06406-190226.
  3. Hamdan, Leila J. et al. “”The Impact Of The Deepwater Horizon Blowout On Historic Shipwreck-Associated Sediment Microbiomes In The Northern Gulf Of Mexico””. Scientific Reports, vol 8, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-14. Springer Nature, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-27350-z.
  4. Jernel?¶v, Arne. “”The Threats From Oil Spills: Now, Then, And In The Future””. AMBIO, vol 39, no. 5-6, 2010, pp. 353-366. Springer Nature, Accessed 8 Aug 2018.
  5. Kayode, J. et al. “”The Effects Of Used Engine Oil Pollution On The Growth And Early Seedling Performance Of Vigna Uniguiculata And Zea Mays””. Research Journal Of Soil Biology, vol 1, no. 1, 2009, pp. 15-19. Science Alert, doi:10.3923/rjsb.2009.15.19.
  6. Milman, Oliver. “”Deepwater Horizon disaster altered building blocks of ocean life””. The Guardian, 28th June 2018. Online Newspaper Source, Accessed 8 Aug 2018.
  7. Susskind, Alex M. et al. “”How The Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Damaged the Environment, the Travel Industry, and Corporate Reputations””. Cornell Hospitality Report, vol 15, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1-13. The Scholarly Commons, Accessed 8 Aug 2018.
  8. Yang, Yuan. “”Liability and Compensation For Oil Spill Accidents: International Regime And Its Implementation In China””. Natural Resources Journal, vol 57, no. 2, 2017, pp. 465-492. Natural Resources Journal, Accessed 8 Aug 2018.
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The Menace of Oil Spills and its Impact on the Environment. (2019, Aug 30). Retrieved from