Oil Spills

Oil spills

Petroleum is a critically important natural resource. However, petroleum is often mined in places that are far away from the regions where most of its consumption occurs. Accordingly, petroleum must therefore be transported in large quantities, mostly by oceanic tankers, barges on inland waters, and both subsea and overland pipelines. Any of these transportation systems can release pollution through accidental spills of oil, by operational discharges associated with cleaning of the storage tanks of tankers, or during unloading at refineries. Some accidental oil spills have been spectacular in their magnitude and their near-term ecological impact, involving losses of huge quantities of petroleum from wrecked supertankers or offshore platform facilities.

In addition, oil pollution is caused by discharges of improperly handled hydrocarbon-laden waste water from petroleum refineries and in urban runoff. Although each of these spills typically involves relatively small quantities of material, the spills occur rather frequently, so in total, large amounts of oil are spilled in this way.

Characteristics of petroleum

Petroleum is a naturally occurring mixture of organic chemicals, the most abundant of which are hydrocarbons (molecules containing only hydrogen and carbon atoms). Petroleum is synthesized from biomass by complex, anaerobic reactions occurring at high pressure and temperature over long periods of time deep in sedimentary geological formations. Petroleum can occur as a liquid known as crude oil, which may also contain natural gas, and also as a semi-solid tar or asphalt in oil sands and shales. There are hundreds of molecular species in petroleum, ranging from gaseous methane with only 16 g/mole, to very complex substances weighing more than 20,000 g/mole.

Petroleum differs in its physical and chemical characteristics from deposit to deposit. Some crude oils are extremely thick and viscous, while others are light and volatile. The lighter fractions of petroleum evaporate relatively quickly when spilled into the environment. This leaves behind residues of relatively heavy molecules that are more persistent in terrestrial or aquatic habitats, and cause longer-lasting effects.

Oil pollution

The total spillage of petroleum into the oceans through human activities is estimated to range from about 0.7-1.7 million tons (0.6-1.5 million tons) per year, equivalent to less than 0.1% of the quantity of petroleum transported by tankers. In comparison, the production of hydrocarbons by marine plankton is about 28.7 million tons (26 million tons)/year. These "natural" hydrocarbons contribute to background concentrations in the oceans, but they are well dispersed and not associated with ecological damage or pollution. In addition, natural oil seeps contribute about 6-13%percnt; of the total petroleum input to the oceans, sometimes causing local damage.

The largest, most consequential events of oil pollution involve spills of petroleum or heavy bunker fuel from disabled oceanic tankers or drilling platforms, from barges or ships on inland waters, or from blowouts of wells or damaged pipelines. Damage is also caused by the relatively frequent spills and operational discharges associated with coastal refineries and urban runoff. Large quantities of oil are also spilled when tankers clean out the petroleum residues from their huge storage compartments, often discharging the oily bilge washings directly into the ocean.

BP Essential oil Drip: A Letter towards the MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Guiding Committee (“PSC”)

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The particular Gulf Oil Drip – 2 Years Later

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Essential oil Spill Threatens Photographers Island Bird Haven Off Staten Area

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Oil spills

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Oil spills

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Oil spills

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Oil spills

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