Contamination of sea water due to an oil pour, as a result of an accident or human error is termed as oil spill. Oil is among the most important energy sources in the world and because of its uneven distribution, it is transported by ships across the oceans and by pipelines across the lands. This has resulted in several accidents in the past while transferring the oil to vessels, during transportation, breaking of pipelines, as well as while drilling in the earth’s crust. While massive and catastrophic spills receive most of the attention, smaller and chronic ones occur on a regular basis. These spills contaminate the coasts and estuaries and can cause serious health problems to human beings.
Oil is a mixture of hydrocarbon compounds, which are the decayed remains of marine animals and plants, died and drifted to the bottom. For the past 600 million years, under intense pressure and temperatures, these remains changed into complicated hydrocarbons called petroleum. Crude oil is a mixture of gas, naphtha, kerosene, light gas, and residuals, which causes hazardous health effects if consumed by any life forms.
The production of petroleum products rose from 500 million tons in 1950 to over 2,500 million tons in mid-1990s, which resulted in massive transportation and associated oil spills. The number has been increasing with the increasing rate of oil transportation, aging of oil tankers, as well as an increase in the size of oil tankers. Oil accounts for over half the tonnage of all sea cargo.
It is estimated that approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil enter the ocean every year, with over half coming from land drainage and waste disposal; for example, from the improper disposal of used motor oil. Offshore drilling and production operations and oil spills or leaks from ships or tankers typically contribute less than 8 percent of the total. The remainder comes from routine maintenance of ships (nearly 20 percent), hydro carbon particles from onshore air pollution (about 13 percent) and natural seepage from the seafloor (over 8 percent).
Public health impacts include illnesses caused by toxic fumes or by eating contaminated fish or shellfish. However, there are other less obvious public health impacts, including losses and disruptions of commercial and recreational fisheries, seaweed harvesting, boating, and a variety of other uses of affected water. Any nation or tourist destination close to oil drilling or shipping lanes is at high risk of experiencing economic collapse and the disastrous environmental effects of oil spills and needs to be properly prepared to clean up.
To prevent oil spills is the top most priority; and the responsibility lies equally on individuals as well as on governments and industries, because the sources of oil waste in the ocean is due to carelessness, rather than an accident.
Integration of preventive measures in industrial process, operation, or product should be a part of the cost of daily operations. Before starting any fueling, de-fueling or internal transfer operation, all machinery and piping systems should be properly checked for tightness and for signs of leaking glands, seals and gaskets. While changing oil or adding oil to machinery, proper care should be taken to avoid oil spills.
References: Waterencyclopedia & Tpub