Earth Science

Human Impacts on the Earth’s Environment

Oil Spills

Study Tip
Oil spills can release hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the ocean at one time.

Oil Spills

  • Large-scale oil spills obtain a lot of public attention, due to their impact on the environment. However, other oil-related problems such as leakage may affect the ocean’s environment.
Study Tip
Oil spills can release hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the ocean at one time.

Cleanup

  • Removal
  • Commercial oil is corralled and then burned, flaring off natural gas.
  • Machines that can separate oil from the water are placed aboard ships stationed in the area.
  • Containment
  • Floating containment booms are placed offshore near the most sensitive coastal areas.
  • Sand berms are constructed off of coasts to keep oil from reaching shore.
  • Containment is only effective if the seas are calm.
  • Dispersal
  • Oil disperses naturally over time because it mixes with the water.
  • Chemical dispersants are sprayed on the spillage.
Oil Spills
  Oil can be burned in order to reduce the amount of oil left over from a spill.

Long-Term Effects

  • Oil causes damage to beaches, marshlands, and fragile marine ecosystems
  • Spilled oil kills birds and marine animals, coats animal fur in oil, clogs blowholes of aquatic mammals, and destroys breeding grounds.
  • Oil contaminates the food supply, and impairs the food chain.
Concept Check
  • What types of damage can occur from an oil spill?
  • How do people clean up spilled oil?
  • What makes an oil spill so severe?