Oil Spills: A long, disastrous history of ravaging planet Earth’s wildlife

Oil covered pelicans wait to be cleaned at a bird rescue facility in Fort Jackson, Louisiana. Image taken by Reuters


In the wake of the latest oil spill we can only view the countless images of oil soaked wildlife, whether it be birds, turtles, or some other type of creature.  Many of us wont make it to the gulf coast to see firsthand the disastrous consequences this year’s oil spill has had on our planet’s wildlife.  We’ll see countless images in the news, online, and on television.  The history of this oil spill will be placed to fit within documentaries that will air on television on networks such as Discovery Channel and History Channel for years to come.  Perhaps it will even be sold in DVD format someday and used in classrooms to educate the citizens of the world on the devastating consequences.  However, what we do know is that when can learn from these disastrous consequences and prepare ourselves better so such disaster wont strike again.

The March to Oil

Drilling for oil in water has a long history that began in 1891 when the first constructed oil wells were placed in the Mercer County Reservoir in the U.S. state of Ohio and 5 years later the oil wells were placed in salt water, located in Santa Barbara Channel, California.  From then on oil production throughout coastal areas began to slowly expand and by the 1950’s mobil steel oil barges we’re constructed more commonly.  As technology advanced throughout the 20th century, especially, the demand for oil rose.  Oil has played a vital role in fueling our vehicle’s and helping supply electrical power to our homes.  Innovation throughout the oil industry and during the process of production itself has lead to global benefits for all of mankind.  However, as the oil production rose so did the drawbacks and consequences for disaster.

History of Spills

Here’s a brief history of some of the most significant oil spills throughout history:

  • 1967-The supertanker Torey Canyon wrecks off the coast of Cornwall, England spilling 120,000 tons of oil killing 15,000 birds, all fish within a 75 mile radius and much more sea life
  • 1969– Between 80 and 100 thousand barrels of oil are spilt into the Santa Barbara Channel, California due to a blowout on an oil platform.  Around 10 thousand birds were killed in the disaster along with much other marine wildlife.
  • 1976-300 thousand gallons of oil are spilt into the Saint Lawrence river when a ship runs aground while traveling inland.  It’s estimated that over 700 animals were killed.
  • 1978-The Amoco Cadiz sinks spilling 219,797 tons of oil off the coast of France.  20,000 birds are killed along with 9,000 tons of oysters.  The spill also devastates the fishing industry.
  • 1979-The Ixtoc Oil well suffers a blowout while being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s estimated 10 to 30 thousand barrels of oil were spilt.  The spill occurs around the nesting site for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.
  • 1989– The Exon Valdez oil tanker hits reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil.  100 to 250 thousand birds are estimated dead along with 2,800 otters, 22 orcas, 300 seals, and 247 bald eagles.
  • 1991-Iraqi forces dump 462 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf before the 1991 Gulf War thinking it’d help stop U.S. forces from landing.  The spill devastates wildlife.
  • 2009-1.2 to 9 million gallons of oil are spilt off the coast of Australia.
  • 2010- The Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers.  It’s possible 12 to 100 thousand barrels per day could be leaking from under the sea surface.  The entirety of the environmental impact in still unknown as the spill is still ongoing.

How do you clean up a spill?

There’s different ways those in charge have approached cleaning up oil spills.  A lot depends on the type and severity of the spill itself.  Dispersants can be put into the oil, thus helping speed up natural biodegradation.  It’s use is however not suggested with helping all oil spill recoveries.  Other biological agents can also help speed up biodegradation.  Oil evaporates and in some cases it’s been left to break up on it’s own through natural means of wind, current, and sunlight.  Oil can also be contained with what are called “booms”.  There’s also equipment that is then used to scrape the oil from the water’s surface.

What can be done..

The debate over the disaster caused by oil spills has long been a hotly debated topic.  While the entire devastation caused by the current BP oil spill is still unknown and still growing, it’s effects will likely be studied for a long, long time.  Perhaps more regulation and safety can lead to lesser spills.  Perhaps the eventual end of the world’s high reliance on oil will lead to less spills as alternate forms of energy become more abundant or perhaps this will never happen.  As environmentalists race to help save wildlife threatened by the current spill, it’s clear that the most prominent victim of the oil spill is the Earth’s wildlife, especially the birds and marine wildlife who rely so heavily on the sea and other water sources for their way of life.




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