The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota for seven months in 2016. One of their grievances was the risk of a rupture in the pipeline which could spill oil into Lake Oahe, a source of drinking water. Should it ever occur, an oil spill could be devastating. A look at past oil spills and spill-prone drilling operations around the world shows the damage that oil causes.
The Gulf of Mexico has had its share of oil spills. Offshore drilling is the culprit. It is technically difficult to perform, and when something goes wrong it is hard to fix.
Nigeria’s drilling operations are notoriously prone to spills. The region has a monitor that shares data with the public on both oil spills and corporate involvement, which was developed as an answer to numerous recent oil spills both on land and offshore. The fallout of the spills is exacerbated by a near total lack of corporate responsibility. But Nigeria’s answer is a step in the right direction.
In Venezuela, an oil spill in a major river can cause havoc among the people who live and rely on the river to survive. The damage from one oil spill could take up to ten years to repair. Oil spills in this area pose threats to not only people, but also to endangered species, water supplies and the environment. These spills require extensive testing for the presence of oil in water and nearby sediment since the oil frequently clings to organic material.
Oil is not restricted to North Dakota, the Gulf of Mexico, Nigeria or Venezuela. From drilling to piping to shipping over land and sea, oil flows in most places on the planet. And where there’s oil, there’s risk of an oil spill.
What Oil Spills Do
Oil affects people all over the world. Families depend on oil for warmth in the winter, after all, and a host of products — including plastics and gas for our cars — wouldn’t be possible without it. Unfortunately, oil pipelines can be an existential threat to the places we call home. Oil spills cause dangerous situations for people who depend upon river, lake and ocean ecosystems.
The effect of oil spills on marine life and aquatic plants can change the entire ecosystem of the ocean.
Birds can’t fly with oil lathered into their feathers, and sea otters require the attention of trained specialists to remove the oil from their fur.
Coral reefs provide a safe place for marine life to dwell, environments for aquatic plants and biodiversity among the ocean. Although coral reefs can make a recovery from damage caused naturally, human causes such as oil spills pose threats to reefs. When a coral reef is threatened, that entire ecosystem is no longer able to grow, produce and prosper. The biodiversity is lost, the fish population drops and the coral reef nears its end.
Oil-coated waters are a far-too familiar sight. The ill effects of drilling and fracking continue. Homes and lives may be lost. Ecosystems may be permanently destroyed. North Dakota is just the closest reminder of the long road we have in front of us.