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Oil spills can be relatively small or can be huge disasters such as the recent BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the Jebel al-Zayt spill that has been touted as the worst in Egypt’s history and one does wonder how do oil spills happen, especially of such a huge magnitude.  Whether large or small, on land or in a body of water, these spills have a huge negative impact on the ecology of the area in which they occur.

Spills during transport

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One of the most common ways for an oil spill to take place is during the transportation of oil from one place to another in either a ship, a tanker car on a train, a tanker truck, or in a pipeline.  Many times these accidental spills are the result of carelessness or other human behavior.  Occasionally they are due to equipment failure. Ships colliding or running aground have been known to cause large oil spills in the seas.  One example of this was a spill on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010.  A train that becomes derailed or has a car that is struck by another train or other vehicle can also be the source of a spill. Truck accidents involving bad weather conditions, over-turned vehicles, careless driving or other vehicles have been known to spill oil as well.  Pipelines require maintenance and even with the most watchful inspections a tear or break in the line can cause a huge spill to occur. This is one part of the answer to the question how do oil spills happen?

Oil Rig Spills

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These spills occur during the process of drilling for oil.  Often spills of this nature involve a fire or explosion on a rig that has been caused by mechanical failure or faulty equipment.  Occasionally a company is accused of taking shortcuts or of sidestepping the spirit of a regulation resulting in unsafe conditions that lead to loss of life and large scale spills.  Often there is a failure of safety features, such as the blow out preventer in the BP spill that allows for huge amounts of oil to escape into the environment.  During wars, such as those in Iraq, one worries that rigs will be targeted which can result in vast spills on land and in waterways.  Sometimes a human error can set into place a series of events that lead to oil being spilled from a rig as well. There are still other answers to explain how oil spills happen.

Natural oil spills

Natural oil spillsCredit:

Sometimes nature cannot manage to contain oil deep inside the earth as it should.  When thinking about how oil spills happen one should never forget that there are sometimes spills that occur simply because of oil seeps that naturally take place deep on the floor of the ocean. On seep off the coast of California release oil daily into the sea.  These are simply cracks or openings that occur due to movement of the ground, weathering or other natural phenomenon and the result is that the oil below these areas can no longer be contained and begins to seep out into the ocean or other body of water. These seeps can also occur on land and have been doing so since prehistoric times.  In these spots oil tends to seep slowly up through the earth’s crust and is deposited on land, in some places these are known as tar pits.

When thinking about how oil spills happen one should remember that there are a variety answers.  One might want to ask about rigs, ships, trains or even Mother Nature’s role before answering the question, how do oil spills happen?