What You Wish You Didn’t Know About Oil Spills

OilinGulf_NOAA_219x219 A few facts gathered by the National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Scientist, Doug Inkley

  • According to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, about 3 million gallons of oil and refined oil are spill in U.S. waters every year. The BP Oil Spill alone has surpassed this amount.
  • In large spills, such as the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the amount of recovered oil is no more than 10 to 15% of the total spilled oil and often much less. (The remainder evaporates, breaks down in sunlight and water, is absorbed by living organisms, burned, persists as tar balls, settles out, etc.)
  • More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, oil can still be found on the beaches of Prince William Sound. Many species have still not completely recovered. Herring, an important link in the food chain and previously supporting a commercial fishing industry in the area, have shown little recovery. Wildlife still not recovered to pre-oil spill populations include goldeneyes, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks, killer whales, sea otters, clams, and mussels.
  • Dispersed oil doesn’t disappear. It is simply no longer visible on the surface because it is mixed into the water.
  • According to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, using dispersants on an oil spill doesn’t reduce the total amount of oil in the environment. Dispersants tend to break up oil slicks which can cause harm when washed ashore, but the dispersed oil is instead mixed into the water where it increases the potential exposure of aquatic life in the water and on the sea floor, to the oil.
  • Dispersants reduce high concentrations of spilled oil in oil slicks by spreading it in lower concentrations throughout the environment (with the hope it may not do as much harm). While it breaks down more rapidly when dispersed, unfortunately many aquatic organisms are susceptible to small amounts of contaminants.
  • The chemicals in dispersants can be harmful to fish and wildlife. Producers are not required to disclose the complete composition of chemical dispersants.

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For all the latest news on how the oil spill is impacting the Gulf Coast’s wildlife and to learn how you can help, visit www.nwf.org/oilspill.