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How Does The EPA Handle Oil Spills?

by | Jan 14, 2023 | Environmental Impact Assessment

Well, human civilizations have depended on oil for centuries. It is one of the significant sources of energy, and its usage has evolved considerably. From religious significance to use in households and industries, oil is an essential resource. While oil is a vital resource, it is not available easily like ocean water. One has to explore or tap into oil reserves miles below the earth’s surface to get oil. Many countries in the world heavily depend on the Middle East for oil; the most convenient and cheapest mode of transport is waterways. Hence in this article, we are going to focus on How EPA handles oil spills?

Shipping containers carry gallons of oil via sea to far-fetched countries. While this is a solution to the energy crisis in countries that don’t have oil reserves, some environmental hazards need to be considered. For starters, oil spills have grown to be a significant concern around the globe and the busy international waters. With this concern, some regulatory bodies have been established to handle such situations effectively.

What is EPA?

EPA is the abbreviation for the Environment Protection Agency of the United States. The agency was established as an independent execution of the US government to resolve environmental issues and their protection. EPA was founded in 1970 and has been a part of major environmental protection acts.

The EPA is a national mission to provide Americans with clean air and water while safeguarding the country’s environmental reserves. EPA is involved in multiple projects; however, this article focuses on its emergency response to hazardous substances such as oil spills. This will allow insights into how EPA handles oil spills.

What Regulations are put in place by the EPA to handle Oil Spills?

The very first step for EPA’s response in situations of oil spills is investigation. A detailed report will be made first to understand how the problem occurred in the first place. Questions such as how the oil release happened, the damage’s extent, the reason for the damage, and other factors are noted in detail. This allows a record that can be incorporated to prevent oil spills in the future.

Once the investigation is concluded, the problem at bay, such as handling the spill, is put in motion. EPA has developed three advanced responses for oil spills and their containment. These include;

1. Mechanical Containment or Recovery

This method is considered the first line of defense against oil spills in the US. EPA puts this method in motion alongside tools such as booms, skimmers, and barriers which do the job of mechanical containment of the oil. The oil is captured using sorbent material and stored until one can dispose of it.

2. Chemical & Biological Methods

Chemical and biological methods are pretty effective in containing oil spills. For instance, gelling and dispersing agents are great tools to prevent oil from reaching shorelines and affecting the natural habitat. Additionally, biological agents are known to be quite effective in assisting habitat recovery.

3. Physical Methods

This method is used for the complete clean-up of the spill. Majorly natural methods such as evaporation, biodegradation, and oxidation come into play to make this method effective. The natural processes are assisted by sorbent materials, bulldozing, and other techniques.

Besides this, the EPA also takes steps to protect birds and animals by keeping them away from the oil spill area. This strategy prevents harming biodiversity. Using tactics such as floaters, helium balloons, and more, birds are kept away. This is how EPA handles oil spills and is quite effective.

How EPA handles oil spills

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When was the most recent oil spill, and how was it handled?

Besides American waters, oil spills are common in major other sectors of the world. One of the most recent oil spills occurred earlier in 2022. It was called the Callao Oil Spill, and it happened in Peru. The oil spill alone threatened to endanger over 180,000 birds, many of whom were already at risk of extinction.

The spill also had an economic impact on the country and the local fishing community. This situation makes it evident that oil spills must be handled quickly and effectively. Hence, the effects are mitigated, and one can contain the spill soon.

How do oil spills concern marine biodiversity?

While oil spills can affect birds and animals, they directly impact marine biodiversity. Studies have shown that fish exposed to oil promote fin erosion. This becomes one of the attributes of the increased mortality rate in marine biodiversity. Besides this, livers in fish are enlarged, respiration rate fluctuates, and fish eggs & larvae are subjected to lethal attacks. Hence, fish species are threatened with endangerment triggered by oil spills.

Besides this, oil spills affect the insulation ability of sea otters and fur-bearing mammals. Since insulation is concerned, these animals die of hypothermia. The same conditions occur in birds as oil reduces the feathers’ insulation ability. Hence, apart from marine biodiversity, birds and animals are also affected. Oil spills also increase the chances of biodiversity consuming oil which can be toxic and hazardous to their health.

How can oil spills be avoided altogether?

Many things can be considered to prevent oil spill events from occurring. This includes preventing overspilling of the tanks and keeping the container air-tight. Besides this, meticulous checks should be undertaken to reduce the possibility of leakage. Recycling filters and using absorbent pads in the boat’s bilges are also essential. Many such steps can be considered to prevent oil spills from recurring.

What are your thoughts on oil spills?

How Does The EPA Handle Oil Spills?

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Oil spills often occur due to human errors and poor functioning of the system used to store oil and its management. These aspects also directly impact the environment, as discussed in the previous part of this article. It makes one ponder how oil spills can be avoided entirely. The answer lies in stricter policies, early alarm systems, and testing equipment and machinery. Mistakes must be avoided, and preventing oil spills is a duty to the environment.



  • Sigma Earth

    The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.


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