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Oil Spills

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.