Our planet, Earth, has large reserves of oil and gas trapped deep beneath its surface. Occasionally, these reserves develop cracks and some of the oil or gas seep out. However, this is a part of nature and rarely causes any major damage. On the other hand, there are times when the same problem is causes because of human interference and it can cause a great deal of damage to marine ecosystems. In the last thirty odd years, the issue of oil spills and their effects has taken on much importance. This is because when an oil spill occurs, it causes a multitude of problems for the environment and us.
An oil spill happens when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline. It happens on a large scale and is mostly seen in water bodies. It happens due to human negligence and is a major form of pollution. The source of the spill are many. Crude oil can be released by tankers on land. In water bodies, the spill occurs due to drilling rigs, offshore oil platforms and well. An oil spills and their effects can also be experienced with refined petroleum or even waste oil from large scale industries. What is common in all of them is that the damage caused by them is permanent and takes a long time to clean up.
As oil spill, it floats on water and prevents sunlight to pass through it. The shiny substance that you see sometimes on top layer of water is nothing but oil which makes it difficult for plants and sea animals to survive. Cleaning up of oil spill is no easy task. Various factors need to be considered before carrying out operations. Some of them being amount of oil spilled, temperature of water, type of beaches and many more.
The Niger Delta is a densely region often referred to as “Oil River” and extends to about 26,000 Km2 in the southern part of the country with about 10,000 Km2 of wetlands in the rain forest of Nigeria (Uyigue and Agho, 2007). The Niger Delta region comprises Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers states. 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings from oil exploration which increased from 5,100 barrels of oil per day at its first discovery in 1956 to current volumes of over 2 million barrels per day come from the Niger Delta (Ojakoratu, 2011).
Oil spills penetrate into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. Cleanup and recovery from an oil spill is difficult and depends upon many factors, including the type of oil spilled, the temperature of the water (affecting evaporation and biodegradation), and the types of shorelines and beaches involved.[1] Spills may take weeks, months or even years to clean up.[2]
Oil spills can have disastrous consequences for society; both economically, environmentally, and socially. As a result of these consequences oil spill accidents can initiate intense media attention and political uproar. Multiple kinds of actors in society can become involved in a political struggle on how government should respond to oil spills and what actions prevent them from happening.[3] Despite substantial national and international policy improvements on preventing oil spills adopted in recent decades, large oil spills keep occurring.
Oil spill can prove fatal for plant, animal and human life. The substance is so toxic that it can cause massive loss of species that live in the sea. Oil spill penetrates into the plumage and fur of birds, breaks down the insulating capabilities of feather which makes them heavier, disallow them to fly and kill them via poisoning or hypothermia.
Even though the public attention towards oil spills has grown in the last three decades, they have been happening for over a century. Since the coming of the industrial revolution, such accidents have been happening. However, the large scale problems that follow oil spills and their effects are more obvious to us today. There are two main types of effects seen after the spill.
Some of the effects of oil spillage in the region can be outline below
1. Environmental Effects: First of these is the environmental effect. The animal life that lives in the water or near the shore are the ones most affected by the spill. In most cases, the oil simply chokes the animals to death. Others that live face a number of other problems. The oil works its way into the fur and plumage of the animals. As a result, both birds and mammals find it harder to float in the water or regulate their body temperatures.
Many baby animals and birds starve to death, since their parents cannot detect their natural body scent. Birds that preen themselves to get rid of the oil accidentally swallow the oil and die due to the toxic effects. In many cases, the animals become blind due to repeated exposure to the oil. Dolphins, sea otters, fish, countless species of birds and many oceanic mammals face these consequences. Countering these effects and cleaning the oil can take anywhere between a few weeks to many years, depending on the damage caused.
2. Effect on Economy: The second major effect of the oil spill is seen on the economy. When precious crude oil or refined petroleum is lost, it effects the amount of petroleum and gas available for use. This means more barrels have to be imported from other countries. Then comes the process of cleaning the oil spill, which requires a lot of financing. Although the company responsible for the oil spills and their effects has to clean it up, there is a lot of government help required at this point.
The workers that are brought on board to clean up the spill face tremendous health problems later in life as well. Their medical treatment has to be paid for and becomes the responsibility of the government. Putting all the methods of recovery into place and monitoring them takes away resources from other more important work and hits the economy in subtle but powerful ways.
3. Effect on Tourism Industry: The local tourism industry suffers a huge setback as most of the tourists stay away from such places. Dead birds, sticky oil and huge tarballs become common sight. Due to this, various activities such as sailing, swimming, rafting, fishing, parachute gliding cannot be performed. Industries that rely on sea water to carry on their day to day activities halt their operations till it gets cleaned.
One of the biggest oil spills seen in history happened during Gulf war when approximate 240 to 336 million gallons of crude oil flowed into the Persian Gulf. It was considered one of the worst disasters, beating the Ixtoc 1 Oil spill in Mexico. Recent major oil spill happened when an oil rig, Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill released somewhere between 172 to 180 million gallons of crude oil into the environment. In the year 2010 alone, six oil spills were seen in the USA. Outside of the United States, oil spills have happened in Canada, Nigeria, France, United Kingdom and in China.
While the long term issues causes by oil spills and their effects is yet to be fully observed, the daily problems are clear. However, most corporations still do not have a solid plan in place for when this emergency may strike.
One must understand that oil spill is not the only threat that marine life is facing. Increasing pollution, contamination of industrial chemicals, exploitation of the resources they provide are also some of the serious threats.
4.Oil Spills Kill Marine Mammals in the region
Oil spills frequently kill marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters. The deadly damage can take several forms. The oil sometimes clogs the blow holes of whales and dolphins, making it impossible for the animals to breathe properly and disrupting their ability to communicate. Oil coats the fur of otters and seals, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia.
Even when marine mammals escape the immediate effects, an oil spill can cause damage by contaminating their food supply. Marine mammals that eat fish or other food that has been exposed to an oil spill may be poisoned by the oil and die or can experience other problems
5.Oil Spills Kill Birds
Oil-covered birds are practically a universal symbol of the environmental damage wreaked by oil spills. Any oil spill in the ocean is a death sentence for sea birds. Some species of shore birds may escape by relocating if they sense the danger in time, but sea birds that swim and dive for their food are sure to be covered in oil. Oil spills also damage nesting grounds, which can have serious long-term effects on entire species. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, occurred during prime mating and nesting season for many bird and marine species, and the long-term environmental consequences of that spill won’t be known for many years. Oil spills can even disrupt migratory patterns by contaminating areas where migrating birds normally stop.
Even a small amount of oil can be deadly to a bird. By coating the feathers, oil not only makes it impossible for birds to fly but also destroys their natural waterproofing and insulation, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia or overheating. As the birds frantically try to preen their feathers to restore their natural protections they often swallow some of the oil, which can severely damage their internal organs and lead to death.
6. Oil Spills Damage Beaches, Marshlands and Fragile Marine Ecosystems
Oil spilled by damaged tankers, pipelines or offshore oil rigs coats everything it touches and becomes an unwelcome but long-term part of every ecosystem it enters. When an oil slick from a large oil spill reaches the beach, the oil coats and clings to every rock and grain of sand. If the oil washes into coastal marshes, mangrove forests or other wetlands, fibrous plants and grasses absorb the oil, which can damage the plants and make the whole area unsuitable as wildlife habitat. When some of the oil eventually stops floating on the surface of the water and begins to sink into the marine environment, it can have the same kind of damaging effects on fragile underwater ecosystems, killing or contaminating many fish and smaller organisms that are essential links in the global food chain.
Important aspects of solution and prevention of oil spillage in the region include technological assessment of equipment and procedures, and protocols for training, inspection, and contingency plans for the avoidance, control, and shutdown of offshore operations. Response includes technological assessment of equipment and procedures for cleaning up oil spills, and protocols for the detection, monitoring, containment, and removal of oil spills, and the restoration of affected wildlife and habitat. However, some of the solutions can be outline below;
The following solutions are proffered
 Treat all oil spills as emergencies
 Emergency build up of massive response and surveillance
equipment and assets (vessels, aircrafts, etc)
 Provide both trained and untrained personnel
 Be less –dependent on petroleum companies who are the polluters
and Clean Nigeria Association that serve the interests of the
multinational oil companies for spill management.
 Enact enforceable laws and regulations for the industry
 Develop the oil producing areas in the Niger Delta.
 Ensure prompt payment by oil polluters to victims.
 Report spills to the special unit of the presidency
 To establish oil contingency fund to acquire response assets
And equipment.
 Establish fund that will cater for prompt payout to the victims of
oil spills. Such payment must be recovered from the polluters as
 Research aid development on oil spills to be accelerated.
 Propagation of information flow to the public on spill emergencies.
 Partnership with petroleum companies and communities for
effective spill control and management.

Oil spills often result in both immediate and long-term environmental damage. Some of the environmental damage caused by an oil spill can last for decades after the spill occurs. The effects of oil spills can have wide ranging impacts that are often portrayed by the media as long lasting environmental disasters. Such perceptions are understandable as they are often fuelled by distressing images of oiled birds and other wildlife.
It is true that an oil spill can have severe short term effects, especially when organisms are considered on an individual basis. However, environmental impacts should always be measured in a scientific context and should be appraised at an ecosystem rather than individual level. In other words, it is important (or more representative of long term environmental effects) to base the extent of environmental damage on the effects to ecosystems. For example, has the ecosystem retained its normal functions or how quickly will they resume following an oil spill?


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