Disaster : Oil Spills in India – UPSC GS3

Utility: Direct question can be asked on Oil Spills
What is an Oil Spill?
  • Oil Spill is the contamination of seawater due to an oil pour as a result of an accident or human error.
  • Oil spills into oceans most often are caused by accidents involving tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, drilling rigs and storage facilities.
Impact of Oil Spill:
  • Environmental Impact of Oil Spill:
    • Oil spills affect marine life by exposing them to harsh elements and destroying their sources of food and habitat.
    • Oil coating on feathers destroys bird’s abilities like waterproofing and insulation. It also decreases the water repellence of birds feathers, without which they lose their ability to repel cold water.
    • Both birds and mammals can die from hypothermia as a result of oil spills.
    • Birds can also die of overheating as they are not able to lose body heat due to oil coating.
    • Ingested oil can be toxic to affected animals, and damage their habitat and reproductive rate.
  • Economic Impacts of Oil Spill:
    • It can result in less tourism and commerce on beaches and populated shorelines.
    • The power plants and other utilities that depend on drawing or discharging seawater are severely affected by oil spills.
    • Major oil spills are frequently followed by the immediate suspension of commercial fishing.
  • Human Impact of Oil Spill:
  • The effects of oil spill on marine life can in turn adversely affect humans. For instance, the contamination of local ecosystems can impact communities that rely on marine ecosystems to survive.
  • Water supplies in surrounding areas are at risk of contamination from oil spills.
  • Fishermen and local ship workers can lose their sources of income. Because now health problems will be associated with exposure to oil such as respiratory damage, decreased immunity, and increased cancer risk.
How are oil spills cleaned?
  • Skimming: It involves removing oil from the sea surface before it is able to reach the sensitive areas along the coastline.
  • In situ burning: It means burning a particular patch of oil after it has concentrated in one area.
  • Releasing chemical dispersants helps break down oil into smaller droplets. It makes it easier for microbes to consume, and further break it down into less harmful compounds.
  • Natural actions in aquatic environments such as weathering, evaporation, biodegradation and oxidation can also help reduce the severity of an oil spill. It also accelerates the recovery of an affected area.
  • Sorbents: Various sorbents (e.g., straw, volcanic ash, and shavings of polyester-derived plastic) that absorb the oil from the water are used.
  • Dispersing agents: These are chemicals that contain surfactants or compounds that act to break liquid substances such as oil into small droplets. They accelerate its natural dispersion into the sea.
  • Biological agents: Nutrients, enzymes, or microorganisms such as Alcanivorax bacteria or Methylocella silvestris that increase the rate at which natural biodegradation of oil occurs are added.
Chronology of Evolution of Oil Spill Disaster Management in India
  • 1993 – National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) approved – designating the Indian Coastal Guard as the Central Coordinating Authority.
  • 1995 – International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC) entry into force
    • Convention calls for the establishment of stockpiles of oil spill combating equipment, the holding of oil spill combating exercises and the development of detailed plans for dealing with pollution incidents.
    • All ports should be cross checked for the mandate given by the convention.
  • 2011 – Oil Spill India (OSI), an international forum on oil spill prevention, preparedness, response and restoration systems began showcasing best practices, technologies and experiences on oil spill management.
  • 2015 – India ratified in 2015, the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001 (Bunker Convention) which ensures adequate, prompt and effective compensation for damage caused by oil spills.
  • 2015 – Coast Guard revised the NOS-DCP to meet international standards, setting up an Online Oil Spill Advisory System that places India amongst the select few countries that have indigenously developed capabilities of prediction of trajectory of oil spills, mapping environmental sensitivities in coastal zones, deployment of aerial dispersant spray system and facilitating regional oil spill contingency plans.

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