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Oil Spill Research


Oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially marine areas, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is usually applied to marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters, but spills may also occur on land. Oil spills may be due to releases of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs and wells, as well as spills of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel) and their by-products, heavier fuels used by large ships such as bunker fuel, or the spill of any oily refuse or waste oil.


Oil spills create many problems throughout the world, including the United States. The impact on the ecosystem in an area can be severe. Many plants and animals suffer or are killed within a short time after the spill occurs. Many people spend their time and money cleaning up the oil.

Scientists also spend their time and the government’s money trying to find different types of technology or methods that clean up oil spills. In the Philippines, the famous Guimaras Oil Spill has affected hundreds of kilometers of coastline and threatens rich fishing grounds. The spill has polluted fishing grounds, dive spots, national marine reserve and adversely affected marine sanctuaries and mangrove reserves in three out of five municipalities in Guimaras Island and reached the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental, causing what is considered as the worst oil spill in the Philippines.

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Oily sludge and dead wildlife have been washing up on beaches, with reefs, marine reserves and the tourist industry all affected.


Oil spill is a type of pollution that occurs mostly on water as well as on land and can have devastating effects on plants, animal life and environment. It occurs mainly as a result of human activity like exploration and transport of oil and is the release of oil or liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the aquatic environment such as oceans and coastal waters and on land.

Spills may occur of crude oil from tankers, oil rigs, platforms and oil wells as well as during the transport of the refined petroleum products in vessels and tankers.

Illegal waste oil dumping into oceans by organizations who do not want to invest in the cost of degrading their waste oil also contributes to increasing oil spill.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes can also contribute to oil spills from oil rigs as well as during transport of vessels and tankers.

Oil spills take place largely because there is a need and demand for oil as a source of energy. Oil is used in one way or another in our day to day activities. We use oil to fuel our cars, trucks, buses and so on as well as to heat or light up our homes. Oil is used extensively in industries to power large machinery and equipment.

Oil Spills may happen for several reasons.

1. When oil tankers have equipment faults. When oil tankers break down, it may get stuck on shallow land. When the tanker is attempted to move out of shallow land, abrasion may cause a hole in the tanker that will lead to large amounts of oil being released into the oceanic bodies. However, although this form of oil spill is the most commonly known and has the highest media attention, only 2% of oil in water bodies is a result of this action.

2. From nature and human activities on land. The large majority of oil spilled is from natural seeps geological seeps from the ocean floor as well as leaks that occur when products using petroleum or various forms of oil are used on land, and the oil is washed off into water bodies.

3. Water Sports. Other causes of oil spills are spills by petroleum users of released oil. This happens when various water sports or water vehicles such as motorboats and jet skis leak fuel.

4. Drilling works carried out in sea. When drilling works carried out in the sea, the oil and petroleum used for such activities are released into the sea, thus causing an oil spill. The most common cause of oil pollution by ships comes from what are called operational oil spills. These are caused mostly by human error or sometimes intentionally when the ship’s crew does not follow the strict regulations and break the law.

At the bottom of the ship under the engines is a space called the bilge. It collects water, oil and grease. When the ship’s crew pumps out the engine room bilges, the oil is separated from the water. The waste oil is put into a special holding tank to be offloaded in the next port.

The remaining water, which may have traces of oil, is pumped overboard through an oily water separator. This makes sure only the tiniest amount of permitted oil goes into the sea. The amount is so small it cannot be seen by the naked eye. If an oil slick can be seen behind a ship, it means that the ship has broken the law and has discharged more oil than is allowed.

Other operational spills may happen when a ship is loading bunker oil or lubricating oil for its engines. A hose can break spilling oil. If someone is not watching the level of oil going into the ship’s tanks, the tanks could overflow.

An operational oil spill can also happen after the crew of an oil tanker has cleaned the cargo tanks before loading a new cargo of crude oil.

After a cargo oil tank has been cleaned with water and chemicals the oil residue will float on the wash water in the bottom of the cargo tank. This water can be siphoned off and put through an oily water separator leaving only cargo oil residue in the bottom of the cargo tank. The new crude oil cargo can be loaded on top of the remaining old cargo oil. However, sometimes the crew does the wrong thing and illegally pumps the oily waste overboard.


Oil spills are considered form of pollution. The effects of oil spills can have wide ranging impacts that are often portrayed by the media as long lasting environmental disaster. The effects will depend on a variety of factors including the quantity and type of oil spilled and how it interacts with the marine environment.

A. Effects of Oil Spill to the Environment

Oil spills may impact the environment in various ways. First, the physical smothering of organisms which is caused by oils with a high viscosity, in other words heavy oils. Smothering will affect an organism’s physical ability to continue critical functions such as respiration, feeding and thermoregulation. Second, the chemical toxicity which is a characteristic of lighter chemical components which are more bio-available is absorbed into organs, tissues and cells, and can have sub-lethal or lethal toxic effects.

Third, the ecological changes which is caused by the loss of key organisms with a specific function in an ecological community. They can be replaced by different species undertaking similar functions in which case the implications for the ecosystem as a whole may not be severe. However, more detrimental is the niche in the community being replaced with organisms performing completely different functions thereby altering the ecosystem dynamics. Oil spill can somehow results to loss of shelter or habitat through oiling or clean up operations.

Oil spill can prove fatal for plant, animal and human life. The substance is so toxic that it can cause massive loss of species that live in the sea. Oil spill penetrates into the plumage and fur of birds, breaks down the insulating capabilities of feather which makes them heavier, disallow them to fly and kill them via poisoning or hypothermia.

B. Effects of Oil Spill on Marine and Coastal Wildlife

Marine and coastal wildlife exposed to oil suffer both immediate health problems and long-term changes to their physiology and behavior. Oil can cause temporary physical harm to animals like skin irritation, altering of the immune system, reproductive or developmental damage, liver disease and other chronic effects such as cancer and direct mortality of wildlife.

Oil Spills also affect marine plants. The oil forms a thick layer on the water surface, and this layer blocks out light and prevents gaseous exchange. When this happens, not only will the plants not be able to photosynthesize, animals underneath the affected area will find that the supply of oxygen slowly diminishes, and is unable to be continuously replenished by the environment. When plants cannot photosynthesize, they eventually die, leading to a vicious effect on the food chain, ultimately affecting all animals.

Oil spills can impact wildlife directly through three primary pathways, namely: ingestion, absorption and inhalation.

Ingestion happens when animals swallow oil particles directly or consume prey items that have been exposed to oil. Ingestion of oil or dispersants can cause gastrointestinal irritation, ulcers, bleeding, diarrhea, and digestive complications. These complications may impair the ability of animals to digest and absorb foods, which ultimately leads to reduced health and fitness.

Absorption is when animals come into direct contact with oil. Absorption of oil or dispersants through the skin can damage the liver and kidneys, cause anemia, suppress the immune system, induce reproductive failure, and in extreme cases kill an animal. Fish and sea turtle embryos may grow more slowly than normal, leading to lower hatching rates and developmental impairments

Inhalation takes place when animals breathe volatile organics released from oil or from “dispersants” applied by response teams in an effort to increase the rate of degradation of the oil in seawater. This commonly occurs among those species of wildlife that need to breathe air like manatees, dolphins, whales and sea turtles. Inhalation of these harmful materials can cause respiratory inflammation, irritation, emphysema, or pneumonia.

Oil spills can also have indirect effects on wildlife by causing changes in behavior, namely: changes in foraging locations, increases in foraging time and disruptions to life cycles.

Changes in foraging locations or the relocation of home ranges as animals search for new sources of food. If a spill causes direct mortality to the food resources of particular species, many individuals of this species will need to relocate their foraging activities to regions unaffected by the spill. This leads to increased competition for remaining food sources in more localized areas.

Increase in foraging time happens when there are increases in the amount of time animals must spend foraging. Animals may need to make longer trips to find food in unfamiliar areas and they may need to forage on less preferred food that takes more time to acquire or that is digested less efficiently. Decreases in diet diversity due to lower food availability may lead to reduced overall health.

Disruptions to natural life cycles may become apparent if particular life forms are more susceptible to the effects of oil than others. Eggs, larvae and juveniles of many species are more vulnerable to harmful effects from pollutants than adults. Changes in the relative numbers of individuals from different life stages within a species may lead to shifts in habitat use patterns which cause ripple effects up and down the food chain.

C. Effects of Oil Spill on Economy

One of the major effects of oil spill is seen on the economy. When precious crude oil or refined petroleum is lost, it affects the amount of petroleum and gas available for use. This means that more barrels have to be imported from other countries. Then the process of cleaning the oil spill which requires a lot of financing.

The workers that are brought on board to clean up the spill face tremendous health problems later in life as well. Their medical treatment has to be paid for and becomes the responsibility of the government. Putting all the methods of recovery into place and monitoring them takes away resources from other more important works and hits the economy in subtle but powerful ways.

D. Effects of Oil Spill on Tourism Industry

The local tourism industry suffers a huge setback as most of the tourists stay away from such places. Dead birds, sticky oil and huge tar balls become a common sight. Due to this, various activities such as sailing, swimming, rafting, fishing, parachute gliding cannot be performed. Industries that rely on sea water to carry on their day to day activities halt their operations till It gets cleared.


The petroleum industry undertakes many measures to reduce the likelihood of oil spills. Proactive technology includes blowout preventers, which cut off the pump pressure in case of an accident, and increased hull strength on oil tankers. These measures help to protect both the environment and the oil companies themselves, which often lose a great deal of profit and public image in the event of a spill.

A. Recommendations to Prevent Spills Caused by Human Error at Oil Handling Facilities

These recommendations focus on management support for spill prevention programs, commitment of sufficient resources to such programs, and commitments to meeting or exceeding regulatory standards, using redundant safety systems, discouraging risk taking, and establishing annual performance benchmarks. Implementation of formal risk assessment and correction programs, and employee involvement, accountability, and performance incentives are also recommended.

Recommendations on work hour limitations are included, as well as recommendations for corporate programs to ensure physical competency of employees responsible for an activity which could result in an oil spill. Security system inspections are recommended, as are written emergency procedures and drilling of those procedures.

B. Recommendations to Prevent Oil Spills by Boat Owners, Marinas, and Boatyards

These recommendations stress regular and careful boat maintenance, knowledge of best management practices for fueling, oil changes, or overhauls, and responsible management and disposal practices for used oil and oily wastes. This section also includes recommendations that marina operators implement effective runoff controls, provide technical assistance and education for their boat owners, and develop written agreements with those boat owners committing them to implement best management practices.

C. Recommendations to Prevent Spills from Tankers and Tank Barges

It is recommended that employee involvement and communications are addressed, and redundant safety systems and annual performance benchmarks are recommended. Several international standards are recommended for certification of management policies and programs.

Regarding watch practices, recommendations about covering standards for navigation watch, anchor watch, engineering watch and security rounds are included.

D. Recommendations to Prevent Oil Spills Caused by Human Error

It is recommended that a tanker or tank barge owner/operator ensure that no crew member is under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs a coast jurisdiction’s waters, and that regular physical exams and a policy requiring notification of use of prescription medications be required. Also, tank barge tow vessel masters should maintain a record of all crew members, and should have three licensed officers or tow operators on board during transit of coastal waters.

E. Recommendations to Prevent Human Error Spills During Bunkering Operations

Persons In Charge (PICs) of bunkering operations on both the receiving and delivering vessels or facilities should emphasize proper procedures and adequate communications during all phases of a bunkering operation, especially with regard to a pre-loading plan, a pre-transfer conference, voice and visual communications, emergency procedures, and safe access between vessels, or between a vessel and a facility.

PICs must ensure that the duties of all personnel involved in a bunkering operation are clearly defined and that training is provided. Furthermore, it is recommend that owners and operators of vessels and facilities involved in bunkering operations within a jurisdiction’s waters be required to demonstrate compliance with these standards by making relevant documents (logs, written policies and procedures, standing orders, pre-loading plans, declaration of inspection forms, and training materials) available upon request.

The creation of emergency response plans that entails oil transporters to have detailed written plans on what actions they will take if a spill occurs should always be encouraged. The Government should pay more attention to the activities of militants engaged in oil bunkering as some of the spills in the oil rich region occur due to this. In addition, Government should ensure that regulatory bodies have the authority to sanction oil companies who spill oil in the region. More and stricter laws with stiffer penalties should be passed so that oil companies are more mindful of their activities and the spills that they cause.

Moreover, a shift from the dependence on oil to other sources of revenue such as agriculture will make it more likely for stricter laws and stiffer penalties for organizations guilty of oil spills to be implemented.

Deterrence in oil pollution is the implementation of Republic Act 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act which penalizes oil pollution damage and seeks to immediately compensate those who suffer from it. This is to secure the enjoyment and protection of our marine wealth.


The Chemistry of Oil Spills

WiseGeek: What Causes Oil Spills, Mary McMahon

The Ships and the Marine Environment-Main Causes of Oil Pollution by Ships

Recommendations to Prevent Oil Spills

Stopping Oil Spills: Environmental Quality/Recovery of Spilled Oil, Shivani B., Christine C., Kristen D.

Sarah Toms (15 August 2006). “Oil spill threatens Philippines”. BBC News. Retrieved 15 July 2013.

Holly K. Ober (May 2010). :Effects of Oil Spills on Marine and Coastal Wildlife”

Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response

Conserve Energy Future: Oil Spill,Rinkesh Kukreja

Environmental Effects of Oil Spills

How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments animals-and-plants.html

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Oil Spill Research. (2016, May 01). Retrieved from

Oil Spill Research
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