You might have read or heard about the oil spill in Ventura, California this morning. As it just happened hours ago there is not a lot of information on the damages yet. But as more information is gathered, the environmental damages will be assessed in the coming days or weeks.
When I’ve heard about oil spills like this one throughout the past few years, my thought has been, “Why is this still a problem?” Surely we have some high-tech way to prevent these things, or clean them up faster. But the news continues to be tainted with these events … once in a while. Basing your knowledge on what you read or hear on the news alone, you’d probably assume that one or two oil spills occur each year. I know I would have.
But the truth is, oil spills occur daily, all over the world.
But the EPA estimates that approximately 70 spills occur each day in the United States alone! Even though most of these are small and “don’t cause great damage,” their effects build up over time, polluting natural environments and resources, and killing wildlife.
What causes oil spills?
Oil spills can start from many different sources. Trucks, ships and other modes of transportation that carry oil sometimes crash or ignite, leaking oil into terrestrial or marine habitats. Another way that terrestrial or freshwater habitats can be contaminated is by pipeline breaks.
One of the worst forms of an oil spill is when explosions or malfunctions occur on ocean oil rigs. It can be hours or days before these leaks are detected, and by that point, thousands of gallons of oil could have already leaked into the ocean.
What are the consequences?
Not only is oil toxic but it also restricts the mobility and behavioral patterns of various plants and animals. For example, aquatic birds rely on their various layers of feathers for survival. Oil causes matting in these layers, which hinders the birds’ ability to float. It can also lead to hypothermia. These same problems affect sea otters, as well.
If a spill is due to an explosion, there is almost certainly fire involved. Oil is highly flammable and floats on water. This creates a barrier of floating fire that animals are unfamiliar with and do not have defenses to combat, especially if they are already coated in oil and have difficulty moving normally.
If a spill occurs inland, it will inevitably leak to local freshwater sources. This also hurts wildlife, but an even bigger problem is that the people who use these sources do not necessarily have resources to purify the water. There are many oil companies that drill in Africa, in or near impoverished areas. If these water sources are contaminated by a spill, the local people might not have the option of finding water elsewhere.
How can we help?
When I have heard reports of a major spill, my impulse reaction has been to stop buying gasoline from the company responsible for the spill. But this is not an effective method, since it ends up hurting the local gas station more than the company at large. What you can do is write letters or emails to the oil company, demanding more responsible practices and explaining how important environmental stewardship is to humanity’s wellbeing.
If you live near a coastal area, there are surely organizations with which you can work or volunteer to rehabilitate wildlife that has been injured by oil spills. The animals most commonly affected are sea birds, sea otters and sea turtles. This type of volunteering often requires extensive training and commitment, but it’s worth every hour spent.
Inland areas require different types of restoration. Planting trees is a great way to redeem almost any type of environmental damage. When oil burns, it releases harmful carbon dioxide, but trees can absorb this gas and convert it to oxygen. We have a project in the works that is committed to reforesting areas that have lost vegetation. Supporting this project will be an effective way to combat oil spill damage in developing nations. Please follow my page for more details soon to come!!
Photo above is of this mornings spill in Ventura, California.