What are the environmental implications of oil spills? What legislative policies have been instituted to mitigate the possibility of future oil spills? How are oil spills cleaned up and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each method? What type of research and innovation surrounding oil spills has been done to prevent their occurrence? In order to foster an environment for emerging technologies and higher standards of living, the United States, Canada and many other nations have increased their dependence on products derived from petroleum. Manifestations of our dependence on oil include fuel for automobiles and houses, as well as its usage for the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and plastics. (EPA, 2012). Since the demand for oil is high, it needs to be distributed in large volumes increasing the propensity for spillage. An oil spill occurs when petroleum is inadvertently expelled into the environment. Oil spills principally occur two ways; spillage into an aquatic environment, or on land (Think Quest, 2002). Recent oil spills which have caused unprecedented damage have augmented society’s concern for the implications oil spills have on the environment and surrounding ecosystems. Oil spills are relevant to our study of environmental economics since it incorporates a lot of the course material including water pollution, toxic wastes, waste disposal, liability laws and incentives for innovation. This essay will address the environmental concerns around oil spills by answering questions surrounding the implications of oil spills, recent legislative policies implemented to prevent oil spills, how oil spills are cleaned up and recent research and innovation that has helped to decrease the likelihood of an oil spill.
When oil is leaked, it adversely alters aquatic environments by physically harming mammals and damaging their habitat. Oil is a compound derived from hydrogen and carbon, however, the process in which the compound is formed, enables it to be toxic to plants and wildlife (Cartage, 2012). The accidental spillage of oil is damaging to subsurface and surface organisms through the physical damage that is done to their habitat. The severity of an oil spill is contingent on two factors; whether it is petroleum or non-petroleum based and the general magnitude of the spillage which is typically measured in barrels or U.S. gallons. Oil is destructive to aquatic ecosystems since it interferes with animal membranes, disrupts the regulation of water controlled by fishes and inhibits metabolic activity (Environment Canada, 2011). Typically, wildlife is affected by oil since it gets sticky over time through weathering. This sticky oil induces hypothermia as oil destroys the waterproofing and insulation of their feathers (Australian Maritime Safety Authority, 2012). The ways in which oil spills damage mammals and birds is threefold; through contamination and destruction of food resources. Animals can be affected by oil through inhalation and ingestion. Vapors inherent in oil will denigrate a mammal’s central nervous system, liver, lungs. Additionally, when the oil is ingested, it may unable birds and mammals to properly digest their food as intestinal tracts become irreparably damaged. Even if a mammal has not directly been affected by the oil spill, the indirect effects can harm them, too. For instance, if a predator’s prey is affected by the oil damage, consumption of that prey will be harmful. Coral reefs, an important habitat for fish and other animals is altered when in contact with petroleum. Furthermore, oil spills nurture an environment that is conducive for smothering of animals (Encyclopedia of Earth, 2010). Evidently, oil spills have the propensity to cause severe, permanent damage to wildlife; however, policies are being implemented to diminish the occurrence of oil spills as well as the magnitude of a potential spill. Legislative Policies:
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