Yamamoto, Julie California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento, California.
Michel, Jacqueline Research Planning, Inc., Columbia, South Carolina.
Last reviewed:September 2018
Show previous versions
- Oil spill, published June 2018:Download PDF Get Adobe Acrobat Reader
- Oil spills, published June 2016:Download PDF Get Adobe Acrobat Reader
- Sources of oil spills
- Oil properties and environmental fate
- Ecological impacts of oil spills
- Human impacts of oil spills
- Oil spill response methods
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
Accidental or intentional releases of crude oil or other petroleum products into the environment. Oil spills can occur almost anywhere in the world and cause a great deal of ecological, social, and economic harm, particularly when oil is released into oceans or other waters. Oil can be in the form of crude oil or various petroleum products produced from oil refining. Each type of oil, whether crude oil or refined product, has a unique chemical composition and characteristics. How spilled oil spreads and changes in the environment and the kinds of harm it can cause depend on the type of oil, the environmental conditions in which the spill occurs, and the geographic location. In general, the heavier and thicker an oil is, the more persistent it will be in the environment. Heavier oils tend to be less acutely toxic than lighter oils, but can coat and smother plants and animals (biota) in the spill area. Cleanup of oil spills into water focuses on controlling the source, getting oil off the surface of the water, and cleaning the affected shorelines (Fig. 1). During and after an oil spill response, restoration of the affected area helps to minimize the effects and return the area (and affected animals) to pre-spill conditions over time. See also: Petroleum; Petroleum products; Toxicology
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