Thursday, 10 February 2011

Oil Spill Effects

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is creeping towards the ignominy of being the most devastating environmental catastrophe of its kind. Despite innumerable remedial efforts, thousands of barrels of oil are being spewed into the ocean each day posing a very real economic, marine and environmental risk. Experts predict that the effect of this latest ecological disaster will be more pronounced than the 1989, Exxon Valdez Spill.
With 5000 barrels of oil finding its way into the waters of the Gulf, we are only a few days away from the point at which the catastrophe will far supersede the Exxon spill. However, experts of the opinion that BP has significantly understated the figure, which is likely at 25,000 to 80,000 barrels per day, at which rate the Gulf spill is already well beyond the Exxon disaster.
Although the impact of oil spills is detrimental to the environment and the economy of the surround areas; the occurrence of such spills has not stopped. Unfortunately, our interest in them only persists till pictures of the devastation are relayed on prime news channels but the damage continues long after, often for decades. The havoc that the Gulf spill has created can be gauged by the fact that BP is spending millions each day to plug the spill but the US government is clearly unimpressed by their efforts and believe that adequate measures are not being taken to control the impact and limit the damage.
What makes oils spills particularly horrendous is the fact that the oil spreads at a surprisingly quick pace when it finds it way into the ocean or waterways. The current and winds helping it to cover greater distances; the oil slick caused by a single gallon can spread over a massive area of many acres in just a few days. For instance, the BP oil spill has already covered a mammoth area of 580 square miles in three days flat.
The mixture of oil and water is known as 'mousse', an extremely sticky substance that clings to any marine body and surface that comes in contact with it. Unfortunately, many marine life forms get trapped in it because they simply don't know to steer clear of it while some may swim to it because it resembles food. The marine fauna that comes into contact with the substance suffers from the following conditions
* Drowning of birds and hypothermia; the mousse sticks to the feathers of birds; making them heavier and compromising their ability to take flight; the substance also destroys the insulating capability of the feathers making the birds susceptible to hypothermia.
* Hypothermia in young seals: Seal pups are also prone to hypothermia because the substance destroys the insulation provided by the fur on their body
* When ingested, the oil can cause immediate poisoning and death, make the animals fatally sick or if the animals live for long enough to be consumed by predators; the toxicity moves up the food chain. Marine life forms like corals and shell fish are particularly at risk from such environmental disasters
Not only do birds, fishes and other marine animals meet their end due to oil spills but also the human populace that lives close to the shores where the spill occurred will experience the impact of the environmental catastrophe. For instance, the Exxon Valdez spill severely crippled the economy of some Alaskan communities that relied heavily on fishing and hunting. The spill had contaminated the hunting and fishing ground for years and this in turn took a toll on the tourism in the area.
Hopefully Louisiana will escape the brunt of this ecological devastation and will not meet the same fate as Alaska.
Dan Carter writes for Solar Power House, who specialize in solar power kits