Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oil and water DO mix

In my post on Joseph Hazelwood, I mentioned one of the misperceptions about the Exxon Valdez oil spill, that it was the largest ever. It wasn’t and, while large oil tanker spills make for very dramatic news reports, they are not even close to being the largest contributors to marine oil pollution.

It’s estimated that more than 700 million gallons of oil end up in the world’s oceans each year. A small amount, about eight percent, comes from natural sources. This is commonly called seepage. By comparison, only about five percent comes from large oil spills. Nearly twenty percent comes from routine maintenance performed on ships, primarily from bilge cleaning operations. Another two percent is a by-product of offshore drilling.

So where does the rest, nearly two-thirds of the total, come from? From shore-based end users, that’s where. First the rain washes that little oil drip under your car away, combines it with hundreds of millions of other little oil drips, and dumps it into the world’s oceans. Some takes an even more direct route, poured directly into storm drains after oil changes. One automobile oil change can pollute up to a million gallons of water. This runoff, from both automotive and other sources, accounts for more than half the oil in the world’s oceans. Another thirteen percent of the total becomes airborne first, from car and industrial exhaust, then settles to the sea and breaks down.

The November 2007 San Francisco Bay oil spill made big headlines. The pilot on the COSCO Busan was fined up to $30,000 and may serve up to ten months in prison. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the mayor of San Francisco, and the Sierra Club, among others, heavily criticized the US Coast Guard’s response to the spill. The ship’s owners were indicted for several crimes, including six felonies. It’ s easy to look at the havoc caused by a big tanker oil spill and feel concern and even outrage.

Now, are you going to do something about the dark, oily spot in your driveway? It’s about to rain…

Filed from the M/V Spirit of '98 in the Columbia River Gorge

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