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The Oil Spill Tragedy

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

If you were to ask me a few years ago, “what does an oil spill mean to you?” I would reply with, “it means we see a bunch of dawn commercials with ducks that are being washed” or “our oceans are not as crystal clear as they normally are”. If you were to ask me today, however, I would reply with, “It means that it causes the possible destruction of an entire ecosystem”. This does not just mean the adorable seals and ducks, this includes the plants, animals, microorganisms, crustaceans, water, and sand.

The remains of the oil spill washed up on the Huntington Beach coastline. Photo by Mario Tama

Throughout history, there have been multiple oil spills and the damage that comes along with them. One of the largest oil spills in the world was in January 1991 in Kuwait where oil wells and tankers had purposefully leaked into the gulf. Iraqi forces had unsealed and opened the valves of an offshore oil terminal called Sea Island. Additionally, in the Persian Gulf, they had dumped oil from tankers. This was all in hopes to prevent American Marine Soldiers from arriving. In the end, thanks to the marines, the barrels were recovered and most of the oil evaporated, however, it resulted in the marines paying dearly for their lives. For the U.S., the largest oil spill was on April 20th, 2010 in the deepwater when a BP pipeline had leaked and an oil rig ended up causing a blowout, which means oil or gas erupted from a well. BP, formerly known as The British Petroleum Company ltd., ended up blaming their contractors, while the CEO made insensitive comments on the spill. Rather than taking responsibility and using the money they had to help clean up the oil spill, BP ended up using the money for advertising instead. BP lacked communication, the ability to be humble, and to admit fault which caused many Americans to become angry. In the end, $61.6 billion ended up being the total cost to repair the damage. But there is one other damage that was not fixable, the 11 lives that were lost during this event. This shows us how oil spills aren't only dangerous to the habitats and the animals that inhabit them, but also to us humans. The fumes from the initial explosion and the toxic chemicals that are released into the air have affected the clean-up crew to the point where they have developed various symptoms of illnesses, which will be discussed in more detail later in this article.

Oil spills are still a problem to this day. Did you know we are currently trying to clean up an oil spill right now? On October 2nd, an underwater pipeline was found to be damaged and originally believed to leak 144,000 gallons of oil off the coast of Huntington Beach, California, but has been reestimated and believed to leak 24,696 gallons. CBS Los Angeles (CBSLA) states that “reports from contract divers and remotely-operated vehicles found a 4,000-foot section of the 17.7-mile-long pipeline was dragged laterally about 105 feet, and had a 13-inch split along the length of the pipe.” According to FoxLa they believed that the oil spill was caused by an anchor that was dragged along the pipeline, however, the boat company is not taking fault, but rather blaming it on the anchor. As of November 1st, the OC Habits website states that “a separate investigation effort has been established for the cause of the incident.” Orange County beaches were all shut down until October 14th, 2021. The oil spill and prevention act requires companies to mitigate ecological harm after a spill and prevent future spills. People are worried about the living conditions near the oil spill, so a new regulation is currently in the process of being created. According to Yahoo news, the regulation moves towards banning new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of residential homes, schools, and healthcare facilities. The Newsom administration is working on finalizing this new regulation.

A survivor of the oil spill tragedy. Photo Courtesy by CNN Newsource

Due to the oil spill, there can be many short and long-term effects; today, I will be discussing a couple of the impacts. Short-term, the oil spill is impacting California’s tourism and local fishermen. It’s causing a need for volunteers to help clean the beaches from any leaked oil and rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Another short-term effect that can lead to a long-term impact is the damage being done to the vessels that come in contact with the oil. Long-term, there are both ecological and personal impacts. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “long-term follow-up study demonstrates that those people involved in the oil spill clean-up operations experience persistent alterations or worsening of their hematological, hepatic, pulmonary, and cardiac functions. In addition, these subjects experienced prolonged or worsening illness symptoms even 7 years after their exposure to the oil spill.” This means that even if the effects of cleaning the spill were not present to someone right away, they could develop an illness over the next several years. Ecologically speaking, oil spills can kill plants and animals, pollute the environment, and disturb the habitats’ salinity. When an oil spill happens it quickly spreads out a thin layer of oil along the surface of the water, which blocks the sun from reaching oceanic environments. This is an issue because it can impact and prevent the producers, such as phytoplankton, algae, and diatoms, from photosynthesizing their own food and supporting the oceanic food chain. When oil that is far at sea is being pushed onto the shore by the current, it has the potential to do harm to a shoreline habitat. For instance, hypothermia could occur in different animals due to the oil breaking down and damaging important feathers and fur. Overall, the oil spill is a long-term damaging event to both the people and the environment.

You can get involved and make a difference with the oil spill! If you see any oiled wildlife, please report it to 1-877-823-6926. They will be able to bring wildlife workers to go about properly taking care of these animals. If you see any balls of tar, you can email with the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, along with the measurement perspective. The Southern California Spill Response states that “if your vessel has been impacted by the oil spill, we want to remind people not to clean their own boats, and to not use soaps or dispersants,” because we need to protect ourselves from the toxicity of the spill. Professionals who are trained and have proper equipment should be the only ones touching the oil. For more information on the topic, you can visit the SoCal spill response website at As of right now CDFW has received 10,000 volunteer requests and are no longer accepting any more requests, but you can keep on checking their website for an opening to occur. If you would like to get involved and follow up with the oil spill updates, head over to the OC Habitats website!

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