Oil spills occur in the testing phase, during drilling and
when oil is transported to refineries on land. Oil spills
affect all marine life from plankton to whales. While catastrophic
spills like Exxon Valdez and the Prestige, off the coast of
Spain in 2002, cause enormous damage and make headlines around
the world, equally lethal are small and moderate spills that
dump tons of oil into the world’s oceans each year.
Within the first two years of production, a major accident
occurred at the Terra Nova rig in Newfoundland. In December
2004, 1069 barrels spilled into the Atlantic Ocean covering
an estimated 57 square kilometres. In just six years, between
1997 and 2003, there were a total of 163 reported oil spills
in that province.
This year alone two large spills occurred in the waters near
Sable Island off Nova Scotia; one spill released 4000 litres
of diesel and the other one released 354,000 litres of drilling
mud at an exploratory well.
Environment Canada says Canada can expect more than 100
small spills, about ten moderate spills and at least one major
offshore spill every year at current levels of tanker traffic.
Expansion of the industry on the east coast and a decision
to allow exploration and production in British Columbia will
only increase the number of annual spills.
The impact of oil spills can have a lasting effect on the
marine ecosystem. Although the Exxon Valdez spill occurred
in 1989, the marine ecosystem has still not fully recuperated.
Oil continues to show up in intertidal zones and scientists
report that salmon eggs and fry continue to suffer consequences
due to the remaining oil concentrations in the water.
For information about the impacts of oil on the marine environment
check out our library section under Oil Spills.
Oil refineries are usually located many thousands of kilometres
away from the offshore producing fields. Therefore, spills
usually occur when crude oil is transported by pipeline, ship
or barge. Despite modern technology, oil has never been successfully
contained in a major tanker accident, nor has a recovery operation
from a major marine spill ever been successful. In fact, industry
declares a cleanup successful if only 15 percent of the spilled
oil is recovered.