Oil Spills

Human Dependence Project

What are the 2 main issues of oil spills?

Oil spills impact both plants and animals in 2 ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Spilled oil can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous. This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation. Oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur, reducing birds' and mammals' ability to maintain their body temperatures. Some oils can ignite or explode. Some oils are very toxic and can kill plants, animals, and humans that inhale or touch it.

What negative effects do oil spills have on the environment?

Because oil does not dissolve, it undergoes weathering. As a result, some oils have short-term consequences, persisting for only weeks. If oil contaminates shallow water, however, the results can be much more dire. In these cases, the oil mixes with mud and other substances and accumulates on the bottom. As a result, the oil can last for decades causing a number of problems for marine life that comes in contact with the contaminated materials. In addition to killing many sea dwellers, oil spills can also impact the health of those that survive. Oil can modify invertebrate feeding habitats, disrupt their shell development, and cause slow suffocation. Oil spills can similarly thwart plant development. They can also spur growth of certain algae populations. When oil directly contacts birds, it can get in their feathers, which impedes their abilities to fly. As a result, many birds drown while others die of hypothermia. If oil is ingested, kidney, liver and lung damage often results, usually followed by death. Other side effects include an inability to reproduce, abnormal behaviors, a debilitated immune system, and skin irritability.
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What are the main regions or areas in or nearest to North America affected by oil spills?

areas that suffered the most damage from the 2010 oil spill were: Louisiana, all of Grand Isle, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Mississippi Sound between Pascagoula and Waveland, the Cat, Ship and Horn Islands, Alabama, San Souci Beach, Dauphin Island and Gulf Shores, and Florida, the Florida coast from the Alabama border to Port St. Joe and the barrier islands on the Gulf Coast, including St. Vincent Island, Little St. George Island and Dog Island.

What wildlife is most affected by oil spills?

5. Brown Pelicans: The state bird of Louisiana, the pelican nests on barrier islands and feeds near shore. Brown pelicans only came off the endangered species list last year, but they've had a rough time in past seasons with storms. Their reproductive rates are low. Breeding season just started, and with eggs incubating the oil could pose a significant threat.

4. Marine mammals (whales, porpoises, dolphins): Oil spills pose an immediate threat to marine mammals, which need to surface and breathe. Not only does the oil pose a threat, but also the nasty toxins that the oil kicks off into the air.

3. Sharks: Shark species worldwide are in decline. The grassbeds south of the Chandeleur Islands are very close to the oil spill. These grasses are a known nursing area for a number of shark species, which are now beginning their spawning season in the Gulf. Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, feed on plankton at the surface of the water and could also be affected.

2. Sea Turtles: Five of the world's seven sea turtle species live, migrate and breed in the Gulf region. Kemp's ridley is the world's most endangered species of sea turtle, and one of its two primary migration routes runs south of Mississippi. Loggerhead turtles, also endangered, feed in the warm waters in the Gulf between May and October.

1. North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: The Great Bluefin Tuna, prized for sushi and sashimi, is one of the species most in danger of slipping into extinction. Traveling down across the Atlantic seaboard, bluefin tuna spawn in the Gulf of Mexico between mid-April and mid-June.

How are the wildlife affected by oil spills?

Scientists are still assessing the effects of the estimated 170 million gallons of oil that flooded into the Gulf after the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig. More than 8,000 birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals were found injured or dead in the six months after the spill.

Do oil spills affect our lives in League City? If not, could it ever reach our area?

We live near a ship channel, so there is always a possibility an oil spill could reach our area.

There was a huge oil spill in Galveston in 2010, and we are very close to Galveston, so it might have brought some oil to our area.

Are people affected by oil spills? If so, explain how.

The coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most celebrated and cherished natural spaces in the world. The people who live along the coast rely on healthy fisheries and clean beaches to sustain their way of life. Tourism is an important part of the economy of Gulf Coast towns, and businesses from hotels to sport fishing boats depend on the white sand and clear water of the Gulf. Oil-contaminated water and oil-covered beaches have been closed for health and safety reasons, significantly affecting tourism and local businesses. In 2008, nearly 1.3 billion pounds of fin fish and shellfish were harvested in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf produces nearly 75 percent of domestic U.S. shrimp output. However, the Gulf region only accounts for about 20 percent of all the seafood consumed in the United States. Since the U.S. imports more that 80 percent of its seafood, the Gulf only makes up about 3 percent of national seafood consumption. The state of Louisiana will be hard hit by damage to these fisheries, with an estimated annual economic impact of seafood production hovering around $2.4 billion.
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Who or what causes oil spills to occur?

Oil spills into rivers, bays, and the ocean most often are caused by accidents involving tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, drilling rigs, and storage facilities. Some other things that can cause oil spills are: people making mistakes or being careless, equipment breaking down, natural disasters such as hurricanes, deliberate acts by terrorists, countries at war, vandals, or illegal dumping.

What are the solutions that people have come up with for oil spills? If there are not any solutions, what are people doing to prevent oil spills?

bacteria living in the ocean actually “eat" oil when it enters their natural habitat. Adding sulfate or nitrate fertilizers to the microorganism population causes them to multiply beyond their natural state and eat up the toxic metals invading their home at up to five times the rate that they would without assistance. A Norwegian company has come up with a totally natural way to soak up nasty oil slicks – peat moss. The super absorbent moss they’ve developed can be scattered on the spill to absorb the oil, and then scooped right out of the water along with the oil

Come up with an idea for a new solution to this problem. Would your solution be able to be implemented now, if not why?

I believe that we can prevent oil spills, but to do that we must: Design facilities that are increasingly reliable, safe and efficient, conduct maintenance and inspection campaigns on a very regular basis, use leak detection devices, schedule regular audits, and select means of transportation and routes that limit the risk of accidents. If we all make the right choices, this solution would be able to be implemented now.
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