How Does Oil Affect the Environment?

The oil industry affects the environment in a variety of ways including drilling, transporting and the potential for spills. Chemical byproducts created during drilling contain many known toxins, and the metal pipes used to transport oil can corrode, leading to leaks and broken pipelines polluting the ground and water.

Waste water from oil drilling contains cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury, zinc and copper which accumulate over time in living things. The metal pipelines can burst when corrosion weakens them, which contaminates any land and surrounding water. The effects of an oil spill on the environment depend on the type of oil. Fuel oils like diesel and gasoline are oils that evaporate quickly but are toxic and can ignite. Bunker oils, used to fuel ships, are heavier, appear black and sticky and can stay in the environment for months or even years if not removed.

When oil is spilled, it affects the surrounding area in a number of ways, from the chemical toxicity to the literal smothering of wildlife. Oils that are especially heavy can completely cover animals and suffocate them, and poisonous chemicals can be absorbed through the skin. Some of the animals most likely to be harmed by oil spills on the water are sea birds and sea otters.