Oil spill prevention

Posted: November 29th, 2013






Oil spill prevention

            An oil spill is a form of pollution that involves the accidental release of liquid petroleum, hydrocarbon, in marine areas of coastal waters, or the release of any oily refuse such as bunker fuel used by large ships into the ocean water. This accidental release may be due to an unavoidable circumstance or due to negligence of the involved companies. Some sources of oil spills are leakages in transport pipelines, abandoned wells, leaks in cargo ships, destroyed drilling rigs, spills during refueling, blowout in rigs and tanker or vessel collisions.

Recent oil spills in America

America has experienced many significant oil spills in the past, with the most recent being that in Louisiana in July where 250,000 gallons of crude oil were spilt from an abandoned oil well. In terms of the magnitude of the oil leak, the Gulf of Mexico incident topped the scales, as 200 million gallons of crude oil were spilt due to the blowout of an offshore rig (Oceana, 2012). The second largest recent major oil spill was in Louisiana where 3.8million gallons of crude oil were spilt. The cause of the spill was a destroyed tank, which was destroyed in the hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Yet another significant oil spill occurred in Louisiana where a tank was destroyed in June 2006 causing the spillage of 1.5million gallons of slop oil. During the Katrina tragedy, yet another tank got destroyed leading to the spillage of 1million gallons of crude oil in September 2005 (Oceana, 2012).

In August 2010, a pipeline burst in Michigan leading to the spillage of 877,000 gallons of oil sands crude, and January of the same year, there was a tanker collision in Texas leading to the spillage of 460,000 gallons of crude oil. In July 2008, there was a tanker collision in Louisiana leading to a spill of 380,000 gallons of refined oil. According to statistics, most of the recent spills that occur have been in the Mexican Gulf, Louisiana and Texas with these spills ranging from one thousand to 200 million gallons (Oceana, 2012).

The Gulf of Mexico Oil spill in 2010

The Gulf of Mexico oil leak incident known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also known as the BP oil disaster or the Macondo blowout is the largest accidental oil spill to have occurred since the industrial nations started utilizing petroleum. This leakage was 18 times more prominent that that of the Exxon Valdez incident, which was previously the largest oil spill in the States’ history. This spill occurred in the Mexican Gulf, near the Mississippi River Delta in the Macondo 252 well. The spill, discovered on 20th of April 2010 occurred due to an explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, which left 11men dead, and 17 others injured (The Telegraph, 2010). The Deepwater Horizon was a drilling project by Macondo Prospect operated by BP.

The spill flowed undiminished for three months leading to a spill of about 200million gallons of crude oil into the sea. 1million gallons of dispersants were used in the control of the consequences of the leakage. The wellhead was finally capped on 15th of June 2010. The well released about 62000 barrels of crude oil daily, and as the basins of hydrocarbon that sourced the gushers were depleted, the daily flow decreased to 53000barrels of oil per day towards the period that the gushers in the well were capped (The Telegraph, 2010). The federal government finally declared the successful completion of the relief well process on 19th of September 2010.


Consequences of the oil spill

The oil leakage incident in the Mexican Gulf was the worst environmental catastrophe attributed to the United States, as it was quite expansive covering over a thousand miles in coastal lands and marshland (Oceana, 2012). The main factor leading to the ecological consequences would be the toxicity of the petroleum and oxygen depletion under water due to the petroleum layer that formed a cover over the surface. Another causative factor of the oxygen depletion in the water is the microbes introduced into the sea to consume the oil that could significantly reduce the oxygen levels in the sea. The crude oil gushing from the wellhead contained over 40% methane as compared to the 5% methane contained in typical oil deposits therefore this would alter the gaseous composition of the water causing suffocation to marine organisms which require oxygen for survival.

In Louisiana alone, the death of dolphins was 8 times that of the historical average. The oil spill saw the death of deepwater corals that were capable of living for over 2,000 years. In a low estimate of damages on life, the number of living creatures that were recovered as being adversely affected by the oil were over 8,000 birds, about 1,000 sea turtles and 600 dolphins and whales (Oceana, 2012). There was a hazardous impact on the species that inhabit the area that the spill occurred which are about 8,332 species (Oceana, 2012). This will be most significant in the sea turtles some of which are already endangered species.

Mutations are another widespread consequence of the oil leak with a large number of mutated fish with deformities and lesions fished after the occurrence of the oil spill. Fisheries is one of the areas in the economy that was impinge on by the oil leak with 36% of federal waters closed at the height of the spill which would amount to an annual loss of $247 million in the fishing industry (Oceana, 2012). The catch levels of shrimp in historically abundant areas are 80% below normal levels. The long-term effect on the industry in approximately seven years would render 22,000 people jobless costing the industry $8.7 billion (Oceana, 2012). With the closure of beaches at the height of the spill, this had a huge impact on the tourism levels causing dents in the economy that depends on this sector. There were also health issues arising with those individuals tasked with removing the oil, as they were hospitalized due to dehydration with those living in the areas surrounding the spill location getting sick.

Cause of the oil spill

There was an explosion that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon, which was the genesis of the spill. This explosion resulted from the methane gas whose pressure was elevated, thereby leaking into the drilling rise where it was released into the drilling rig. In the rig, it was ignited and hence exploded due to its highly flammable nature and the pressure in the drilling rig. This explosion damaged the wellhead of the drilling rig causing it to leak which was discovered on 24th of April, when it became apparent that the genesis of uncontrolled oil was the original site of the rig. The large magnitude of the spill was partly because of the operating company’s decisions in cost cutting where they had not installed proper systems that ensured well safety making the process of containing the spillage difficult. A defective cement job in the well could have lead to the discharge of the methane vapor into the rig something that would not have occurred had the cement job been correctly done. It was also caused by absence of systematic and significant reforms both in the industry and policies set by the government in regards to the oil drilling industry that would prevent occurrence of future spills even after multiple leakages experienced in the past.

Prevention of oil spills

The most effective plan in prevention of oil spills is preparation of a contingency plan. This plan anticipates the occurrence of an event hence ensuring that the level of preparedness matches up the magnitude of the occurrence. This ensures that the reaction to a hazard is timely and coordinated as it provides information before during and after the spill. Protection of human health and the environment should be of priority when preparing a contingency plan. This plan involves for steps that are hazard identification, analysis of the vulnerability, risk assessment and response actions (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011).

Hazard identification is aimed at understanding the specific locality and environmental factors surrounding oil storage and oil drilling areas such as the weather, geographic isolation and spill size. The transportation modes used in movement of the oil from that site are also studied and the response strategies in the specific oil drill or storage facility determined. The response equipments and trained personnel in response of a spill are also determined in the hazard identification (USEPA, 2011). Vulnerability analysis provides information on the resources of the company and the surrounding communities that may be in harms way on the occurrence of a spill hence giving the clean-up personnel the power to make well-informed decisions, which can lead to protection of the public’s health (USEPA, 2011). This analysis consists of lists of public safety officials, public facilities, common public gathering areas and areas most susceptible to oil pollution incase of a spill.

Risk assessment being part of the contingency plan involves comparison of the hazard and the vulnerability to see the exact risk posed to the community and its magnitude in relation to the preparation level by the oil company. This gives the company an advantage in the control of the spill since they are able to determine the areas that can be prevented from exposure and the best way to fix the damage created by a spill (USEPA, 2011). In response, actions are taken against the risk areas identified in the risk assessment stage. Agencies involved in cleanup effort are notified of the risk areas and the personnel involved in the process trained with the equipment to be used provided and located closer to the risk areas. In the occurrence of the spill the size, direction and the speed are accurately determined and containing it in a limited area. Another risk action undertaken is stopping the flow of spill from the source area in a timely manner where possible. This plan on being developed is tested to see if it is effective in real sense. Discussions and training session of response are undertaken and there is improvement of those areas found not to be fully effective.

Government role in prevention of oil spills

The federal government has a response system that works through a network of cooperative forces that involve the federal, state and local agencies. This system known as the National Response System responds to oil spills into navigable waters in the States (USEPA, 2011). It involves on-scene coordinators that carry out functions involving assessment of the scene, monitoring the actions of the clean-up workers, provide response assistance in affected areas, reporting of their activities during and after the spill and participate in effective contingency planning. It also has regional response teams who provide technical advice, equipment and work force in response to a spill, the also provide training to on-scene coordinators and are heavily involved in contingency planning. The third part of the National Response System is the national response team that ensures technical, financial and operational information is distributed to all members of the response team (USEPA, 2011). It is the major planner, developing the training programs for regional, state and local officials. Hence, for proper and timely response to hazardous situations regarding oil spillage the government is at the forefront to ensure preparedness for the protection of the people in the hazard localities and the environment.




Works cited

“Campaigns>>Gulf Oil Spill Information Center: Facts about the Oil Spill”. Oceana. 2012. Web. Retrieved 25 June 2012. http://oceana.org/en/our-work/climate-energy/offshore-drilling/gulf-oil-spill-information-center/facts-about-the-oil-spill

“BP leak the world’s worst accidental oil spill”. The Telegraph. 3 August 2010. Web. Retrieved 25 June 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/7924009/BP-leak-the-worlds-worst-accidental-oil-spill.html

“Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response”. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 27 January 2011. Web. Retrieved 25 June 2012. http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/learning/pdfbook.htm


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