Environmental Ethics Issue on Oil Spills

The environmental ethics issue that I chose to examine in this paper is the petroleum industry and its long history of oil spills which damage the ocean’s ecology, runes beaches, kills animals, and threatens the fishing and shrimping industries. Even though the United States and many other countries depend on the oil carried by ships or drilled for on off shore drilling rigs, the damage done by this industry is significant. Cleaning up an oil spill takes a massive effort, is expensive and not always effective. Alternatives to off shore oil drilling and transporting oil by ship need to be explored because of the damage it does to the environment. What is Petroleum?

Petroleum are like others may call it crude oil is a naturally occurring, toxic, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights, and other organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth’s surface (Wikipedia 2010). Why do we Need Oil?

The United States uses about 700 million gallons of oil every day and the world uses nearly 3 billion gallons each day (Office of Response and Restoration, 2008). What do we use all of this oil for? Oil is used to make fuel for cars, trucks, and busses. It is also used to make diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, and liquefied petroleum gas. We use it to heat many homes in the winter. There are many homes in the U.S. that would use it of cooking. It is used to lubricate machinery from bicycles to printing presses and to make asphalt to pave roads.

Additionally, it is used to make plastic, medicine, ink, fertilizers, pesticides, paints, ink, crayons, bubble gum, dishwashing liquids, deodorant, eye glasses, CDs, DVDs, and electricity. It is also used to make wax which in turned is used when packaging frozen foods, among others things that may be packaging in a wax produced. One barrel of crude oil, when refined, produces about 19 gallons of finished motor gasoline, and 10 gallons of diesel, as well as other petroleum products. What Causes Oil Spills?

Most oil spills happen when oil is being transported but some are the result of oil rig accidents or explosions. Some occur naturally or are the results of natural disasters and still others are deliberate acts. Some oil lies under the ocean floor and can seep into the ocean through cracks. It is estimated that as much as 1.5 million barrels of oil may enter the ocean environment this way each year (Oil Spills, 2000).

During the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq deliberately released 240-460 million gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf. This was the largest oil spill in history and covered 600 square miles of sea surface and blackened 300 miles of coastline (Oil Spills, 2000). On July 15, 2006 in Beirut, Lebanon, the Israeli navy bombed the Jieh coast power station releasing between three and 10 million gallons of oil (Infoplease, 2000-2009). Nearly 100 miles of coastline were affected.

The Coast Guard estimates that incidents resulting from Hurricane Katrina released seven million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. 113 drilling platforms were destroyed and 457 pipelines were damaged. Leaks were reported from 124 different sources including pipelines, storage tanks, and industrial plants. The oil spills resulting from Katrina were considered minor because actions were taken before the storm arrived. Wells and platforms were shut down before the storm arrived. However, the pipelines were not purged and it is believed that the majority of the oil that leaked into the gulf came from them. What Happens in an Oil Spill?

When oil mixes with water, it contaminates the water making it poisonous to fish and wildlife. Just one quart of oil may pollute up to 150,000 gallons of water (Oil Spills, 2000). Oil spreads out over the surface of the water and is harmful to marine birds and mammals as well as fish and shellfish. Oil destroys the insulating ability of fur bearing animals and the water-repelling abilities of feathered animals exposing them to the elements. Many animals also swallow oil when they try to clean themselves. Oil contaminates fish and the animals that eat them such as bears and humans. This places a hardship on those who depend on fishing or the fishing industry for their livings.

When oil mixes with water is changes and begins to break up. It becomes less toxic over time. Wind and waves help break up the oil and some will evaporate. Some will form tar balls and sink into the ocean where it will continue to release hydrocarbons into the water. Bacteria in the water will attack and digest some oil. Some oil will wash ashore making a smelly mess on beaches and discouraging tourism. Oil spills are expensive to clean up. History

Major oil spills have been occurring around the world since 1967 when the Torrey Canyon ran aground and spilled 38 million gallons of oil onto the British and French coast. Around fifteen thousand sea birds were killed along with many sea organisms and all of the fish within a seventy-five mile radius (Oil Spills and Disasters, 2000-2009). On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez hit an undersea reef and spilled over ten million gallons of oil into Alaskan waters. The spill resulted in the death of 30,000 birds, 1,011 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 151 bald eagles, and 13 killer whales. Oharra (1999) reports that after 10 years the effects of the spill can still be seen.

Twenty-eight species of animals and sea life were affected and of these twenty-eight, only the bald eagle and river otters have recovered. There are still beaches in the area with significant oiling and some rivers and streams are still contaminated affecting the salmon population and other animals. The world’s worst off shore oil disaster happened off the coast of Scotland on July 6th of 1988. The expense of this disaster was in human lives. 166 workers were killed in the explosion and fire. Current Events

On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible drilling rig sank after an explosion. Eleven people were killed in the explosion and oil began to leak into the water. It is estimated that over one million gallons of oil are being released into the water every day. The leak has not been stopped yet and its total affects can only be estimated at this time but some authorities have begun to predict the extent of the damage. The coastal wetlands of the Gulf of Mexico account for the vast majority of this crucial habitat in the United States.

(Those wetlands in Louisiana alone account for nearly a third.) They provide food and haven for wildlife and nourish finfish and shellfish populations that provide many of our country’s most important commercial and sport fisheries. Reductions in the ecosystem services provided by these productive and vital wetlands will be felt for years to come.

The gusher, now estimated by the quasi-official Flow Rate Technical Group to be flowing at 20,000 to 40,000 barrels (840,000 to 1,700,000 US gallon; 3,200,000 to 6,400,000 liters) of crude oil per day, originates from a deepwater wellhead 5,000 feet below the ocean surface (CNN 2010). The resulting oil slick covers a surface area of at least 2,500 square miles with the exact size and location of the slick fluctuating from day to day depending on weather conditions.

Experts fear the spill will result in an environmental disaster, with extensive impact already on marine and wildlife habitats (Gillis, J. 2010). Clean Up Who cleans up the mess after an oil spill and what efforts are made to minimize the damage? In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency usually take charge of the response to oil spills. The location of the spill affects the methods that can be used. Oil floating on the surface of the water can be soaked up using booms. Booms also help keep the oil from reaching the shore. Booms do not work well where there are strong winds or currents.

Sometimes controlled fires are set to try to burn away the oil. However, burning oil releases toxic smoke and is not usually used in populated areas close to the coast. Sometimes chemicals called dispersants can be sprayed on the oil to help break it down. This allows oil droplets to mix with water and be absorbed into the aquatic system more quickly but this has dangers also. The broken down oil can be absorbed by marine life and into the food chain. An Israeli study done in 2007 showed that the combination of dispersants and broken down oil is more toxic to coral reefs than raw crude oil (How stuff works, 1998-2010). When oil reaches the shore, other methods have to be used to clean up the mess.

Biological agents including phosphorus and nitrogen are sprayed on the oil to increase the growth of microorganisms which break down the oil. Manual pickup using hand tools and collection bags is another method that is used. Spot washing using hand-held washing tools can be used to remove small amounts of oil.

Environmental effects on wildlifeThe severity of the spill and its proximity to wildlife habitats have an effect on the numbers of aquatic wildlife hurt or killed. Waterfowl and other animals like seals and otters can become covered in oil, which breaks down the water resistant properties of the birds; feathers, as well as the insulation provided by sea mammals’ fur. Animals can be poisoned by the oil they ingest while licking themselves cleans (Clark J. 1998). Laws and Preventive Measures

Environmentalists are asking for special care when they are on their shipping routes in the environmentally sensitive areas and also for tightening of safety measures for shipping. Environmentalists are calling for a four-point plan to help prevent spills. •Undertake risk assessment of areas believed to be particularly sensitive and vulnerable to shipping activities (Monitor A., 2002). •Designate, through the IMO (International Maritime Organization), those sites that qualify as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas of PSSAs (Monitor A., 2002).

•Introduce and enforce strict regulations tailored for the individual sites such as banning single-hulls vessels in these areas, indentifying areas to be avoided or recommended routes, requiring experienced pilots on board when ships have to pass through these areas or requiring mandatory reporting as ships transit sensitive areas (Monitor A., 2002).

•Improve maintenance and inspection globally of all vessels and off shore drilling rigs, but particularly those approaching their decommissioning age (Monitor A., 2002). •Requires transporters to have a $1 billion dollar financial assurance program for large vessels (Marine log 2004). •Reduces the financial assurance requirement for transporters that use double hulls, posse’s safety equipment and demonstrate good safety records (Marine log 2004).

•Authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to board and inspect vessels involves in maritime spill incidents and imposes a $5,000 penalty for commercial vessels and refuse access to an officer inspecting under these circumstances (Marine log 2004). There have been several laws set to prevent oil spills on vessels though out the coastal waterways. The barge operators must navigate within designated channels, with using local pilots to guide their vessels, seek tugboats escorts, and implement vessel traffic service systems to prevent collisions and groundings. The law also provides for training and response equipment for coastal communities to capture and prevent spills.

In addition to the preventive measures spillers would face tougher fines under the new law. For example if anyone was to discharge oil to any states waters and tidal areas that may cause injury to public health the penalty will increase from $1,000 to $25,000. This penalty has not been increased since 1967. The law also creates graduated penalties that allow for stiffer civil and criminal penalties when parties’ actions are proven to be negligent or reckless and result in serious damage to natural recourses (marine log, 2004).

They have also set up a law that establishes a trust fund to help the surrounding communities respond to the oil spills and imposes a two cent per barrel fee on petroleum products delivered to marine terminals to fund it. The trust fund will be capped at $10 million, and the fee will no longer be collected after that point (marine log, 2004).

No matter how successful and extensive the recovery effort, oil spills leave an indelible mark on the environment they impact. New laws need to be set and more intent inspections need to be made on the off shore drilling rigs and oil vessels. Companies need to have stricter penalty set upon them. How many more life’s need to be affected before something is done? And how much wildlife will be lost before something is done. Less oil is used when people conserve energy by driving smaller cars, using public transportation or alternatively-fueled vehicles or other ways of travel, like walking and bicycling. If everyone used less oil, fewer tankers would sail the seas, and less drilling rigs will be operating. This could reduce the risk of oil spills.

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