After Effects of Oil Spills

An oil spill is defined as “the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment.” Oil spills are considered one of the most harmful types of pollution, and one of the most difficult to clean up. They may take weeks, months, and occasionally years to clean because many factors are involved in the clean-up of an oil spill, especially since exposed oil is an immediate fire hazard. 

How do oil spills happen?

Oil spills mostly come from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs disposing of crude oil and its byproducts. Approximately 30-50% of oil spills are a result of human error. This may be indirectly, which is fairly common, or directly, which would just mean a human forgetting to do a part of their job. 20-40% of oil spills are a result of equipment malfunction and/or failure.

What effect do oil spills have on animals?

Oil is very harmful to land life and marine life. Statistically, the animals we see being affected the most are birds and marine animals, like whales, seals, otters, and fish. Oil destroys the insulation birds and animals with fur have. This often leads to them not being dying from hypothermia because of the harsh environments they are now exposed too. Oil can change the growth and digestive patterns of animals if directly ingested, as well as kidney failure. Fish and and shellfish that have been exposed to oil automatically become unsafe for animals and humans to ingest. Oil will clog the blowhole of whales in dolphins, which makes them unable to communicate or breathe, leading to suffocation. Lastly, oil can change the scent of an animal, which is problematic for young birds who use scent to identify their mother. After oil spills, young birds in the area tend to starve and die.

What effect do oil spills have on plants?

The oil that washes onto coastal lines, mangroves, or other wetland areas will contaminate the plants, killing some and making the rest unsuitable for animals to eat. Because of all the animals that oil spills kill, major changes in the food chain occur during and after clean-up. This can lead to a large increase of plants just outside of the affected area, and a large decrease of plants instead of the affected area because when an oil penetrates the plants, they typically die. 

What effect do oil spills have on humans?

The three main ways humans are affected are physical contamination, food contamination, and economic. Oil spills are extremely flammable. If oil catches on fire, it can produce toxic gases that can damage human lungs. Beyond the air, fires also kill people. In the Deepwater Horizon explosion, 11 workers were killed because of an oil-induced accident. 47 people were killed in the fire produced by Lac-Megnatic derailment. Other situations like these have occurred several times throughout history.


NOAA. “How does oil impact marine life?” National Ocean Service NOAA, 26 February 2021, Accessed 5 September 2021.

Thompson, Andrea. “FAQ: The Science and History of Oil Spills.” Live Science, 23 April 2010, Accessed 5 September 2021.

West, Larry. “5 Environmental Consequences of Oil Spills.” Treehugger, 11 November 2021, Accessed 5 September 2021.

Wikipedia. “Oil spill.” Wikipedia, 27 June 2021, Accessed 5 September 2021.

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