Thursday, June 28, 2007

Causes of Oil Spills

Oil spills are hazardous to the environment and can be dangerous or deadly to affected people and animals. There are a number of factors which can lead to oil spills, and many occur during the transport of oil across waterways such as oceans.

Oil is commonly transported by barges, tankers, pipelines, and trucks, each of which has its own imperfections that can lead to an oil accident. Tankers and barges can crash or run into unexpected land that causes a crack or hole which allows oil to escape. Likewise, pipelines which transport oil underground can develop leaks or cracks that allow oil to seep into the environment. Oil shipping trucks can also instigate an oil spill in the event of an accident. Some oil can escape while it is being moved from one vessel to another, a process called lightering. Uncontrollable factors such as hurricanes and other violent weather can cause tankers or barges to wreck or can damage offshore drilling facilities, incidents that can lead to oil spills.

Oil spills can occur during other phases of production, such as when oil is being extracted from an oil well or being converted into other products at a refinery. Human mistakes as well as equipment failure are common causes of accidents in such situations. Sometimes oil is even spilled intentionally as an act of war or vandalism. Illegal dumping of oil is another deliberate act that causes harm to the environment.

Since importing and exporting oil is a major mechanism of world trade, oil spills often happen in the ocean during long international commutes. The degree of effort involved in cleaning up an oil spill depends on the quantity of oil that is spilled, the type of oil, the cooperation of the weather in clean up efforts as well as the location of the spill. Lighter oils, such as gasoline, have a tendency to evaporate into the air and are therefore generally easier to clean up. A spill in the ocean is often relatively easier to clean up than a spill in a smaller lake, though cleaning any spill is a complicated undertaking.

When oil is spilled into the ocean, the movement of the waves causes some of the oil to emulsify in the water. Some of the mixture sinks to the bottom of the ocean where it sticks to rocks and sand. Some of the spilled oil is consumed by microorganisms in the water, and some is broken down by the sun. Still, some of the spilled oil is transported by the current onto land, affecting the sand, rocks, grass and trees.

Oil spill prevention and cleanup procedures are monitored by organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Coast Guard. Such organizations enact policies aimed at preventing spills, training for oil clean up and making companies accountable for accidents.

About the Author: Bob Jent is the CEO of Western Pipeline Corporation. Western Pipeline Corp specializes in identifying, acquiring and developing existing, producing reserves on behalf of its individual clients.