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Oil Spill

Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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What is Oil Spill?

According to the data of Marine Insights, the production has been increased from petroleum products from 500 mn tons to 2500 mn tons from 1950 to mid-1990s which leads to huge transportation as well as oil spills. This also led to an increase in the size of oil tankers and the ageing of these tankers with time as well. Though the number of oil spills per decade has decreased, it has been estimated that around 706 mn gallons of oil leaked into the oceans. In this article, we will be discussing these oil leaks only. We will learn what is oil spill, oil water pollution, causes, effects, and all the related aspects.


Oil is an important source of energy in the world. It is transferred from one place to another by the ships in the sea and through the pipes. Due to some kinds of problems, the pipes leaked and the oil spread in the oceans. This is called an oil spill. The release of petroleum in the marine ecosystem is pollution. It occurs in the oceans but also spreads to nearby lands. This happens because of several reasons like transferring oil to other containers, breaking pipelines through which oil is transported from one place to another and at the time of drilling in the earth's crust. Oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons and it causes harm to the surrounding environment. It can destroy animals and plants. 

The catastrophic and massive spills are highly considered as their damage to the environment is high in quantity. But the smaller and chronic oil spills occur on a normal basis. For millions of years, under high pressure and temperature, the remains of fossils changed into hydrocarbons which are called petroleum. It is also known as crude oil. It is composed of gas, kerosene and light gas which can cause hazardous effects on ecosystems. If it is consumed by any other species of the ocean then it will cause high damage to them. The production of oil rose in the millions. Due to massive transportation, it results in oil spills. A large number of waste oils are entered into the ocean which comes from the land and the other waste disposal. It can cause a great impact on the health of the people who consume seafood. Strict measurements will be taken in this regard. So that it can't cause an impact on the environment. 

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Oil Leak

If we talk about spill meaning, according to the Oxford Learner Dictionary, "It is an act of letting a liquid come or fall out of a container." An oil spill occurs because of leakage of oil especially in the ocean waters and this leakage creates oil spill pollution which is a kind of ocean pollution because it leaves greater impacts on the oceans and when this oil spill occurs at a larger level which leads to leaving impacts on the water body, environment, marine life as well as the economy of the nation for many years, then this is termed as oil spill disaster. The following graph shows the average number of oil spills in the ocean per year by decade which clearly shows that it has been decreased with time.

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Oil Spill Definition

Some of the definitions of the oil spill are mentioned below:

  • "Oil spill is a release of oil into the environment, either leaked or discharged from a ship, lorry, truck etc." or " an accidental release of oil into a body of water, as from a tanker, offshore drilling rig, or underwater pipeline, often presenting a hazard to marine life and the environment. " - Collins dictionary.

  • "Oil spill is an accident in which oil has come out of a ship and caused pollution." - Cambridge dictionary.

Causes of Oil Spills

There are some causes from which oil spills occurred, a few of which are:

  • It happens on the land or sea because of the leaks from ships, wells, pipelines and other carriers of the oil.

  • It can be caused by some accidents which include tankers, refineries and drilling rigs.

  • It can be caused by the storage facilities.

  • Due to the production in millions, it will result in massive transportation and oil spills.

  • Spills can be caused by the people who make mistakes and sometimes they become careless.

  • It happens because of the breaking of equipment.

  • It can also happen because of disasters.

  • It can also occur because of the people who do illegal work.

Effects of Oil Spills

Oil spills are damaging in a variety of ways. There are some effects of oil spills which are:

  • When oil spills occur in the ocean, the oil does not mix with the water and it spreads on the surface. Because of the thick layer present in the ocean which is also known as slick expands because of which the sunlight does not reach the ocean animals and plants.

  •  It affects the food chain of the whole ecosystem.

  • When oil spills occur, it will break down a moderate amount of oil and deposit on the bottom. 

  • When oil spreads in the ocean, it breaks and sinks into the ocean which deteriorates the health of the ocean life.

  • It contaminates the natural habitat of the ocean.

  • Oil spills have harsh effects on the coastlines. The birds and the sea mammals are covered by the oil.

  • Oil is so damaging to the whole ecosystem as it covers everything which is nearby the coastlines like sand, animals, grass and soil etc

  • It destroys everything near the coastline.

  • The oil that spills into the ocean can have a great impact on people's health who consume seafood.

  • It can be damaging for those marine animals who swim in the ocean and if they ingest oil then it will be destroying them.

How is it Controlled?

Firstly, it should be taken care that no such oil leakage happens for which proper training should be given to the team as well as proper guidelines should be followed related to carrying such ships as well as carrying these ships to the ports and passing through various narrow channels and during staying in the journey at somewhere, etc. The various methods of controlling the oil leak, if it occurs are mentioned below:

  • Oil blooms which are also known as containment bloom are the most common method in case oil spills occur and used to clean up. This equipment helps in further spreading the oil. It will be useful if this equipment is present locally otherwise oil will spread. It works where wave velocity is found constant otherwise it becomes difficult for it to clean up.

  • When the oil is cleaned up and bounded by the oil blooms then the oil can be skimmed off with the help of skimmers which are also known as oil scoops. It is the cheapest method to clean up.

  • Sorbents are another method that helps in removing the oil. These are liquid absorbers and for oil leakage, natural sorbents are used such as peat moss, straw & hay. They help in less wastage as well as less pollution. They are generally most useful for small spills with high efficiency. 

  • The next most common and most useful method of removing oil spill is burning. The oil is ignited similar to the rice husk which helps in removing 98% of the oil.

  • The other method is the usage of dispersants which is considered as the last option i.e. oil disintegration for which dispersal chemicals are used. This leads to bonded molecules go deeper into the water where it becomes available for the microbes which later degrades them.


There are various methods that can be adopted if oil spills occur but the best solution is to prevent the occurrence of such oil spills because they cause a lot of problems for marine life and others. Thus, the following measures can be taken to prevent oil leak:

  • Oil tankers should not be filled fully but only around 90% of the total capacity should be filled so that chances of leakages can be reduced.

  • In boats with inboard engines, the usage of oil absorbent pads on the bilges should be done so that any kind of leakage can be controlled by absorption.

  • Necessary checks should be done before filling the oil and recycling as well as repair should be done of old oil pieces of equipment and filters.

  • Usage of automatic nozzles should be done in order to reduce the potential of the overfilling tanks.

  • Proper guidelines set by the National authorities should be taken care of while filling and shipping such assignments and necessary check-up of storage sites should be done on a regular basis.

  • After using the oil or any old oil equipment as well as oil absorbent should be recycled properly.

Fun Fact

Every country follows some standard guidelines to prevent any kind of oil leak but in any case if it occurs every country has their own agencies which take care of the oil leak. At the international level, the bodies which take care of this matter are International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund ( IOPC ), World Bank Oil, Gas, Mining and Chemicals as well as the United Nations Environment Program - World Conservation Monitoring Center. ( UNEP - WCMC ). Besides these, there are many associations of oil industries as well.


Thus, we can conclude that oil spills are the leakages of oil or other petroleum products that happen on the land or water through ships or wells or oil containers. This spill leads to another form of pollution i.e. oil spill pollution which can become an oil disaster as well. It causes a lot of problems not only for the marine species but for the birds or mammals and coastlines as well. If it occurs, a lot of methods can be adapted to control the spill whereas the foremost thing is to prevent the occurrence of oil spills so that no such disaster occurs and response teams should be there to control and act on these disasters. This article will be helpful for you whenever you study ocean pollution or water pollution or oil spills in the oceans in Environment studies, Geography or Disaster Management.

FAQs on Oil Spill

1. What Problems Do Oil Spills Cause?

Answer. The oil spill is a kind of disaster which causes new kinds of water and ocean pollution. It does not let the sunlight reach the plants and animals inside the water. It affects the whole marine ecosystem and marine life to a larger extent and sometimes death of marine animals can also be seen. It contaminates the ocean and degrades the quality of water and also affects the birds and mammals as well as the coastlines.

2. What are the 5 Major Ways Oil Spills are Cleaned Up?

Answer. We should take preventive measures so that oil spills do not occur but if in any case, it occurs there are 5 major ways that can be used to clean up the oil spills. First is the usage of oil bloom which does not let the oil spread further and then skimmers are used to skim the oil. The method which is the natural usage of material that works as absorbers and other methods is the most common as well as efficient method i.e burning the oil spill area and the last option is to clean up using dispersants where microbes, in the end, helps in cleaning the oil.

3. What is an Oil Spill Disaster? What are its Causes?

Answer. When an oil leak occurs at a very large scale whose effects can be seen for various years, that is termed as an oil spill disaster. It is generally caused by leakage from the pipelines or types of equipment or ships or wells on the water and land as well as also caused by accidents of the carriers of oil tankers. It also occurs because of damaged storage containers and due to not doing regular maintenance of such containers and tools which also can be triggered because of the occurrence of other disasters.