• Rakshit Verma

Oil Spills

The most diversified and beautiful wildlife lies beneath the waves, unseen, but not so far from reach.

Oil spills happen every day, some minor with a few barrels while another major with up to a million barrels of oil. But what happens after an oil spill? Science tells us with the Archimedes principle that oil being lighter than water floats on it. This oil spreads itself to only a few centimeter thick forming what is known as an “Oil Slick” covering a large area. It spreads even more forming a thinner layer which is known as a “Sheen”. But these have a larger impact on our lives than it seems like, particularly on marine life. Sea otters can lose their ability to insulate themselves. Birds can lose their ability of water repellency, much needed to them. This can cause high body temperature, inflammation, and what is called Hyperthermia, which is life-threatening. To the fishes, it can cause fin erosion, enlarged livers, reduced growth rates, and can even hinder reproduction. But this is not it. Oil leaks can affect human life indirectly. These diseases make their way up to humans with the help of the food chain and the phenomenon of biological magnification.

Now that it has been established that oil leaks are disastrous, we can work upon ways to clean them. There are about three common ways to clean an oil spill. The first is what is known as Containment, with the help of floating barriers called booms, oil spills are cleaned. The second is the chemical method. Chemicals are spiled into the ocean which helps harden the oil, after which it can be easily removed. But this too is harmful because all chemicals are harmful to life. The third is safer but not efficient. It is to physically remove the oil from the ocean. This is a tedious job requiring manpower and labor.

These three methods of cleaning up an oil spill are the most common ones, but the latest technology has much to offer. A new type of modified sponge has been created by the Swiss, which is made of wood. This sponge is known as Empa. Its specialty is that it can absorb oil, approximately as much as fifty times its own weight.

Oil spills are an important concern because they last a long time.


  • Iraqi forces intentionally released over 300 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf in 1991 as part of the offensive in the Gulf War, effects of which may last forever.

  • The Deepwater Horizon, which is an oil rig located in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded in April 2010. This is one of the biggest oil disasters. The explosion released 210 million gallons of oil. Its consequences on the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding communities are felt to this day.

  • Castillo de Bellver, a Spanish tanker, caught fire off Cape Town in 1983 and spilled over 78 million gallons of oil into the sea.

  • In the Gulf of Mexico, there is a process known as the “Loop Current” that flows through the Gulf, around the Florida Keys and East Coast, as well as around Cuba and the Yucatan. That current is now carrying oil from the BP spill, creating a wider range of hazards.

Oil Spills are the new Black.