Death of Nature – The Impact of Oil Spills on Our Oceans

The Impact of Oil Spills on Our Oceans

By Aryssa Yoon and Karthiga Ratnam

Drake’s Folly. That’s what started the race for oil. The year was 1859. Edwin Drake successfully drilled for and found crude oil. Until then, companies would collect oil only through oil seepage. This would happen naturally. The town called the oil well Drake’s Folly because of the failure of his initial efforts. 

Today over 170 years later. We recognize the irony of that name. It really is Drake’s Folly. The world would have been better off without our obsession with oil. It has defined the geopolitical order of the world for a century. Countries have been invaded, democracies have been toppled, young children have been murdered in air raids, in our quest for oil. The more oil wells and pipelines you control the stronger your position in the capitalist world order. Today we wouldn’t be far off if we called Drake’s Folly as Earth’s Folly. Our dependence on non-renewable energy has directly impacted the health of the planet and is the key contributing factor for climate change and the Death of Nature

Today we would like to focus on the impact of oil transportation and deep sea oil rigs on marine pollution. Take a look at this infographic by Gavin Potenza. Since 1967 there has been over 4.5 million tonnes of crude oil spilled. It takes more than 50 years for the spill to clear up. That should make you angry! Our need for industrialization and “growth” is destroying the true assets of this planet and the future of our children.

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The oceans hold untold secrets and benefits. What we know about our oceans is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Have a listen to what Sylvia Earle has to say in this video: 

We are destroying what we should be protecting. And for what? So that oil companies and cartels can hold us ransom? Given the domino effect, oil spills have on the ecosystem and livelihood of people, we decided to focus our cause and effect map on a subsection – four of the top oil spills. Even that is mind-boggling. 

  1. The Gulf War – this was no accidental oil spill. It was a calculated strategic wartime move by the Iraqis. Since it was a tactic in war, no one was really held accountable. 
  2. Deepwater Horizon – an explosion in the deep sea oil rig caused this spill. The rig was owned by BP. According to a report by NOAA – 8.3 billion oysters were impacted/lost. The settlement was the largest recorded – $20.8 billion. This was only possible because of a larger-than-life activist movement, and the Clean Water Act, RESTORE Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and multiple criminal statutes.  
  3. Ixtoc Spill – again caused by an explosion. Took about 9 months to stop the spill. Owned by Pemex – the Mexican state-owned oil company. The company spent about $100 million but managed to skirt most of the compensation. 
  4. 1979 Atlantic Empress collision – caused by a collision with the Aegean Captain oil tanker. 

If you are thinking, surely there are laws against this. And you are right. International conventions are in place for this. 

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Regardless, of the spill there were some overarching common elements. Most oil spills were caused by human error or the companies cutting corners on safety protocols. The ecosystem damage is always immeasurable. The communities that live close to the sea and depend on it for their livelihood are usually the worst affected. Not just economically but also health-wise. The impact of the oil spill on surrounding water bodies, crops, seafood and general health of the sea, causes long term health problems in humans. No one was really held accountable. And the cycle continues. There are so many lessons that we could have learnt from the Ixtoc Spill in 1979. But alas we didn’t. 31 years later Deepwater Horizon – a similar incident. 

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But this all still seems abstract. They say something isn’t personal until it happens to you. And it happened in Karthiga’s home country – Sri Lanka. A few weeks ago, the X-Press Pearl vessel caught fire due to a leak. It was in Sri Lankan waters. The plastic nurdles that the vessel was carrying “spilled” into the ocean. The resulting pollution made the clear blue waters and golden beaches of western Sri Lanka to turn black. 

Even after a massive clean up effort initiated by the Sri Lanka Navy, a number of sea turtles, dolphins, crustaceans and fish started dying and washing up to shore. Absolutely heartbreaking! Remember what we said before about common elements. Here’s an infographic that was doing the rounds on Twitter. Please take this information with a grain of salt as it was not released by official sources.  

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You can see clear themes being repeated. Clean up costs, loss of ecosystem, loss to the economy and of course legal costs associated with obtaining compensation. 

The Sri Lankan government has filed an initial compensation claim of about $40 million. The problem is compensation usually takes years and the fisheries community are struggling to make ends meet now. 

Here’s a video by local media outlet Daily Mirror, detailing the plight of this community:

The planet is at a tipping point. Climate change is real. The primary cause of climate change is fossil fuel. Whether that’s through emissions, through oil spills or factory farming. It has polluted our lands, the air we breathe and our water bodies. If we are not careful, this wicked problem won’t just be the death of nature but the death of humanity.