Environmental Impact of Oil Spill Explained

Environmental impact of oil spill can be summarized into; air, water and soil degradation. It implies that the general effect of oil spill on the ecosystem is environmental degradation.

This article discusses the environmental impact of oil spill, as follows;


1). Air Degradation (as an Environmental Impact of Oil Spill)

Oil spill can reduce air quality, through any of various mechanisms.

One of these is the release of volatile components as oil is being spilt. The lightweight compounds may be harmful to the ozone layer, and may the transported by different media to other parts of the environment.

Volatiles can also be emitted into the atmosphere by the evaporation of spilt petroleum [1].

Fire outbreak which accompanies some oil spill events, may cause some greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and particulates, to be released into the atmosphere.

Several air pollutants from petroleum are known to be carcinogenic, and to cause respiratory ailments among others [3].


2). Water Degradation

Water degradation is a relatively common environmental impact of oil spill.

Collision is one of the causes of oil spill in water bodies [4]. Marine vessels transporting petroleum can collide with obstacles and incur bodily damages or capsize, causing the escape of large quantities of oil and possible fire outbreak.

Soil degradation by petroleum can also lead to water degradation. When rainfall, flooding or erosion occurs in areas with hydrocarbon-polluted soil, the pollutants can be transported in runoff, into nearby water bodies.

Often, stormwater pollution can occur as an intermediate outcome in the process, especially if large volumes of water are involved.

The effects of oil spill on aquatic ecosystems are generally negative. Oxygen deficiency, unfavorable physicochemical change, and biodiversity decline are common effects of oil spill on water bodies. These effects can affect the survival of aquatic organisms and lead to mass deaths.

Terrestrial organisms are also affected by aquatic oil spill, which leads to contamination of food sources, vaporization of toxic volatiles into the atmosphere, and marine navigation problems, among others.

Environmental Impact of Oil Spill: Water Degradation (Credit: Adela Leiro 2002 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Environmental Impact of Oil Spill: Water Degradation (Credit: Adela Leiro 2002 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


3). Soil Degradation (as an Environmental Impact of Oil Spill)

Soil degradation occurs as a result of oil spill incidents that occur either on, or close to, land.

One of the primary effects of soil hydrocarbon pollution is a decline in agricultural productivity [2]. When petroleum contaminates soil, it may clog pore spaces and reduce porosity and aeration, as well as fertility and moisture retention capacity of the soil.

These effects pose a threat to sustainable farming and can significantly reduce yields while affecting the safety of agricultural products.

The degradation of soil can affect vegetation growth in natural ecosystems like forests, marshes and grasslands, and can contribute to environmental problems like deforestation and desertification.



The environmental impact of oil spill comprises of;

1. Air Degradation

2. Water Degradation

3. Soil Degradation



1). Fingas, M. (2005). “The evaporation of oil spills: Development and implementation of new prediction methodology.” 2005 International Oil Spill Conference, IOSC 2005. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256925754_The_evaporation_of_oil_spills_Development_and_implementation_of_new_prediction_methodology. (Accessed 15 October 2022).

2). Inoni, O.; Omotor, D.; Nkem, A. F. (2006). “The effect of oil spillage on crop yield and farm income in Delta State, Nigeria.” Journal of Central European Agriculture 7(1). Available at: https://jcea.agr.hr/en/issues/article/315. (Accessed 15 October 2022).

3). Khanna, S.; Dhaimade, P. (2018). “Carcinogenicity of Petroleum to the Aero Digestive Tract.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.29011/2574-7614. (Accessed 15 October 2022).

4). Rogowska, J.; Namieśnik, J. (2010). “Environmental Implications of Oil Spills from Shipping Accidents.” Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 206:95-114. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-6260-7_5. (Accessed 15 October 2022).

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