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News and Resources

Are You Prepared to Handle an Oil Spill? - December 11, 2016

An oil spill occurs when liquid petroleum hydrocarbon is released into the environment, either onto land or into water. Do you know how the environment is effected when there is an oil spill? Do you know what steps you should take to make sure the spill is properly cleaned up? Many people do not know how to respond to an oil spill, and often if the spill is not properly taken care of, it can negatively impact both the environment and our lives.

One of the worst oil spills in U.S. history is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that began April 2010 and continued for three months until the rig was capped in July. The spill began when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, releasing large amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the rig being capped, attempts to completely stop all flow of oil failed until mid-September 2010 when the container was finally declared sealed; however, as of 2012 the site was still showing signs of leakage.

During this time, beaches, wildlife, estuaries, and wetlands were negatively affected with sludge from the spill. Our government estimated that a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf. Some states reported that millions of pounds of oily residue had been removed from their beaches and that it was still building up despite all efforts to remove it as quickly as possible.

Due to the fact that we do not have off shore drilling near our area, the chances of having to deal with a spill of that magnitude, like Deepwater Horizon, is very slim. Even though we do not have to worry about a spill that large, we still have to watch out for the little spills that can occur, which cause environmental issues just on a smaller scale. In our area, oil spills usually occur when oil spills from boats or cars and ends up in our rivers, bays, or the Atlantic Ocean.

In the event of an oil spill the public needs to be informed on who to contact and what procedures to take if it occurs. If you encounter or cause a spill the first thing you should do is call the Maryland Department of the Environment at (866) 633-4686 or the National Response Center at (800) 424-8802 for out of state emergencies and report the spill as quickly as possible. If you encounter an environmental emergency, which is a sudden threat to public health or the overall health of the environment and can be caused by the release of oil, radioactive materials, or hazardous chemicals into the air, land, or water, you need to be able to identify the severity of the emergency and act accordingly.

Sometimes oil spills are less severe and the oil will evaporate, not causing any serious threat to the environment. The sun, wind, currents, and waves can disperse and evaporate most oils. Though light oils like gasoline can disperse quicker than heavier oils like crude oil, it is still important to report any spill that has occurred.

Since most oil floats on the surface of the water, the animals most affected by spills are animals like sea otters or birds that reside on the surface of the water or birds that reside closer to the shore line where the oil washes up. During most oil spills, birds are put in danger and often killed in greater numbers than other kinds of creatures. Sea otters are easily harmed by oil; since their ability to stay warm depends on their fur remaining clean and oil will ruin their coat.

Oil spills are not a joke; if you encounter a spill it is important to report it immediately. Visit the National Response Center online for more information on oil spills and where it is safe to store it and in depth information on how to respond to spills. 

Swanton is an intern with Maryland Coastal Bays Program and senior at Stephen Decatur High School. 

 



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