What is oil spill, different types, causes & effects

Oil spills, not a very common term but a serious form of environmental pollution. While we are trying to explore every kind of environmental issues oil spills is one major area which we should not omit. Thus dealing with what is oil spill, its different types, causes, effects and moreover the worst 10 oil spills that have been happened in the World.

What is Oil Spill?

As the word suggest, it is the release or escape of oil into the sea or any other water body. In other words, oil spills can be defined as contamination of water bodies due to spilling of oil due to negligence of humans or an accident. This term oil spills is generally associated with marine oil spills where the oil is released directly to the deep sea.  The oil spills include any type of crude oil or any type of distilled oil like kerosene, lubricating oil, diesel fuels, gasoline, hydraulic oil and jet fuels. This oil spill can be a few gallons to millions of gallons. The costs incurred in cleaning of these spills are enormous and it can take months and years. The oil spill act was passed in 1990 and further revised in 1994 to prepare and prevent oil spills.



  1. Natural causes : some of the oil spills occur due to natural causes. Sometimes oil may seep out from the bottom of oceans when sedimentary rocks degradate due natural process at the bottom of the ocean floor.
  2. Human causes : oil spills due to various man made reasons like
    • negligence and lack of awareness
    • lack of proper technology
    • leakage during transportation and storage
    • lack of proper maintenance of oil vessels
    • due to accidents



  1. Gulf war oil spill- 1,360,000 – 1,500,000 tones (8million barrels) in the year 1991.
  2. Ixtoc oil well- 454,000 tones was spilled due to explosion of oil well in the year 1979 in Gulf of Mexico
  3. Atlantic empress- 287,000 tones were spilled when this oil tanker collided with another ship in 1979 in Caribbean Sea.
  4. Fergana valley- 285,000 tones were spilled on land in the year 1992.
  5. Nowruz oil field- 260,000 tones were spilled when a tanker collided in 1983 during first gulf war.
  6. ABT summer- 260,000 tones were spilled due to leakage in the year 1991 in Angolan coast.
  7. Castillo de bellver- 252,000 tones were spilled due to explosion of the oil tanker in 1983 in Cape Town.
  8. Amoco Cadiz- 223,000 tones were spilled when a ship sank in the year 1978 in France.
  9. The haven- 145,000 tones were spilled due to explosion in 1991 in Italy.
  10. The odyssey- 132,000 tones were spilled when an oil tanker split into two in 1988 in Nova Scotia.

Our planet earth has large reserves of oil underneath. These have to be wisely used without wastage and spillage. A lot of permanent damage is caused to the environment and marine life due to negligence and accidents. This can only be prevented by creating awareness among people who work in the industry and use of proper advanced technology.  cleaning up of oil spills is near to impossible and it can take years. Many factors need to be considered like amount of oil spilled, type of water, temperature and depth of water and the type of oil spilled and so on. All these toxins can prove to be fatal. Oil spills occur frequently. As per the reports, eight million barrels are wasted and spilled every year due to negligence and accidents. Majority of the spills occur in water which affects the marine life as a whole. This pollution is life taking and cannot be reversed. Some of the common methods used foe cleaning oil spills are by using biological agents or bioremediation, controlled burning that causes reduction of oil in water, by using dispersants that dilute oil, dredging, skimming and solidifying. Some of the equipments used during the process of cleaning are biological agents, vacuums, sorbets, shovels and booms and skimmers.

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