Oil pollution is one of the most high profile forms of environmental pollution, usually because oil spills are often large scale events which affect an enormous area and so receive substantial press coverage.
The liquid properties of oil means that any leakage can be difficult to contain, which is why an oil spill can affect such a large area. All living creatures living in the area are likely to be affected including bird life, fish, coral reefs etc, which makes oil spills such environmentally devastating events.
Some of the most destructive examples of oil pollution come from accidental escape from large ships, usually when they become damaged during heavy storms or a collision. Any large ship can leak a lot of fuel and oil into the ocean no matter what their cargo, but if they are actually transporting oil they will have substantial quantities on board which will find its way into the water. The most famous example of this situation is the Exxon Valdez oil tanker incident in 1989 which leaked large quantities of oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska, after striking a reef.
Damage to undersea oil drills can also lead to major oil slicks. Who can forget the Deepwater Horizon incident of a few years ago that not only claimed lives in the explosion, but also resulted in millions of barrels of oil being released into the ocean which affected the water and coastal regions in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pollution from oil is not just an environmental situation caused by companies operating large ships or underwater oil wells though. Just as with other forms of pollution such as air pollution, although large corporations are responsible for the high profile, large scale disasters, the actions of individuals often play an even greater role when their combined effects are totalled. Similar to motor cars pumping out exhaust fumes into the atmosphere, private boats will leak oil and fuel into water, as anyone who has looked at the water in a recreational harbour will be able to testify. This contamination of water can affect the health and wellbeing of fish and other aquatic creatures living in the water or relying upon it for drinking. The health and safety of humans can also be put at risk if they were to swim in the water and accidentally swallow some of it.
Is Oil Pollution a Fire Risk Too?
Whilst it may not be the first thing that a person thinks about when considering the risks to health and safety from an oil spill, it is actually a fire hazard. Oil is extremely flammable and will sit on top of the water rather than quickly dispersing through it. This means that were a spark or flame to come into contact with it, a fire can quickly spread throughout the entire slick on the top of the water. Any boats in the area will be affected and the safety of those on board will be compromised not only from the flames but also the risk of explosion as these boats are likely to have fuel on board in their tanks.