Petroleum Pollution

By: Morgan Jerry

What is Petroleum Pollution?

Petroleum is a point source pollutant. It can exist as a natural gas or a liquid referred to as crude oil. It is a fossil fuel comprised of decaying matter in the ocean and translates to "rock oil" in Latin. After layers of organisms sit on the ocean floor for years, it ends up becoming buried and forms oil as it sits inside rocks which it must then be collected from.
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Where Has This Occurred?

In January of 2015, anywhere from 300 to 1,200 barrels (state official believe it is closer to 1,300 barrels) of oil were spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. This prevented residents around the area from using the body of water as a water source, as a cancer causing substance, Benzene, was detected in large amounts. From 2006-2014, the company which was responsible for the oil spill, has also been involved with 9 other spills. The area is now clean and the water is safe to drink, and is the most recent large spill in the United States.


In Mayflower, Arkansas, there was a massive spill in which up to 7,000 barrels of crude oil spilled after a pipeline broke. Homes had to be evacuated around the area, as the substance put citizen's health at risk. Luckily in this case, the oil had not reached the nearest lake which is Lake Conway so no aquatic organisms were harmed. The gas of the oil however, released highly toxic hydrocarbons which could severely and negatively affect the health of those in the area.


Considered to be the most devastating oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, the BP oil spill of the Gulf of Mexico sure is one of the most well known. Just under 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during this incident. It last from April 20th, 2010 to July 15th, 2010. It was officially capped however on September 19th, 2010. 11 oil rig workers were killed during this accident as well when the wellhead exploded. Using bluefin tuna as an example organism, scientist wanted to see what effects the oil had on the species that inhabited the gulf. They found that the fish suffered from effects as drastic as irregular heartbeats, four years after the spill when the study was conducted. This incident had long-term effects on the marine life in the gulf, and also the United States and its economy as a whole, and continues to do so to this day.

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How Are Humans Impacted?

If one were to breathe in the vapor from petroleum gases, they would find it hard to breathe and suffer from severe headaches and dizziness. The skin can also absorb oil and negatively affect the blood, nervous system, and kidneys. Leukemia and skin cancers are also more of a risk for those who work with petroleum and are constantly exposed to the substance. Extreme exposure to petroleum may even lead to a coma, or even death.


Humans and animals alike rely on bodies of water for a number of reasons. Our supply of water is relatively limited so obviously polluting it in the way petroleum can is devastating. We need water to drink and would not survive without it. Humans also consume a great deal of fish and bring in a lot of money from the fishing industry. The economy would drop if petroleum pollution were to spread more rapidly. We also would have less food to eat, regardless of what it does to humans financially, as the fish would die.

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How Are Animals Impacted?

Humans and animals exposed to petroleum experience similar health problems. There have been studies that found that animals who live in areas where petroleum pollution occurs have deveIoped serious health problems. These include tumors in the lungs as well as the kidneys. Seals and polar bears also have the capability to absorb toxins from the oil in through the skin which can cause damage to internal systems and organ failure.


Marine mammals that have been covered in the thick oil may have difficulty moving around in the water, and therefore may die because of it. Oil can also block the gills of fish and cause whales to be unable to filter water properly. For marine organisms, these oceans and rivers are their homes. If they are flooded and polluted with petroleum products, they will not survive. It is impossible for them to breathe with toxic liquid coating them and everything else in their habitat. Oil spills can and do devastate aquatic environments.

Most Polluted Area

In Niger, there is a body of water called the Niger River Delta. Around 7000 oil spills have occurred in this area from 1976 to 2001 alone. A shocking 240,000 barrels of oil products are accidentally spilled into the river. The amount of oil in the river is so excessive that many feel it is near impossible to completely clean up what is there. Most of the oil that has been leaked into the body of water has never been pulled out, despite around 2. This is a major cause for concern, as the oil is very likely cancer causing and may could lead to infertility if one is exposed to it enough.
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World's Largest Recorded Oil Spill

The largest oil spill in recorded history occurred at the Sea Island Installations on the Persian Gulf in Kuwait on January 26, 1991. 240,000,000 gallons (or 816,327 tons) of oil spilled into the water, devastating the marine life around. Around 30,000 birds died as a result of the pollution, as well as a large amount of fish.
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Resources

  • Green Cross, and Blacksmith Institute. Niger River Delta, Nigeria (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
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  • Tutton, Mark. CNN. Cable News Network, 04 June 2010. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
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  • "Petroleum Effects on Marine Mammals." Petroleum Effects on Marine Mammals. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.