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Oil Spills

 

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Overview
When an oil spill occurs, often due to a ruptured oil tanker or leaking oil rig, people around the world are awed by the damage to the environment. Many oil spills are caused by human error, but there are also naturally-occurring oil spills, such as seepages from oil deposits beneath the ocean floor. Regardless of their origins, oil spills have an impact on the environment. The initial impact of an oil spill on the environment is familiar to those who hear about the event and see its effects on the evening news: a film of oil spreading across the surface of the body of water; oil-stained beaches and shorelines; waterfowl and marine mammals coated with oil, struggling to survive; and the carcasses of wildlife littering the shoreline. The environment sustains some of its most visible damage within the first few days or months of the spill. But what are the long-term effects of a large spill? Some evidence suggests that the oil from the Exxon Valdez spill may have entered the food chain, and that the crude oil itself could continue to wreck havoc with the environment. Since oil floats and crude sinks, both the surface and the bottom of the ocean ecosystem could be affected for a long time. Cleaning up an oil spill is no small task. Exxon to date has spent over two billion dollars on the Valdez cleanup operations. There are many methods used to clean up the oil, including cold- and warm-water washing, storm-berm relocation, and manual removal. Nature is sometimes capable of handling the oil on her own terms. The spreading out of the oil slick increases its surface area, allowing many natural processes to begin. Low- to medium-weight crude will start to evaporate. Solution emulsification and photo-chemical oxidation also assist in the cleanup. All of these processes, however, require much time. Acts of nature and acts of humans contribute to the likelihood of oil spills. Nature's fury may twist a ship, rupture a storage tank, or prevent cleanup operations. Human factors such as poor judgment, lack of organization, and quest for fossil fuels can lead to decisions that trigger accidents.

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