October marks the one-year anniversary of the Orange County oil spill at Huntington Beach. As an estimated 25,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean, images of seabirds, covered in sticky black crude oil, covered screens across the country.
Wildlife responders from the UC Davis-run Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) are often in these shots, washing a pitiless grebe or tiny snow plover in a bath of soapy water.
Of Exxon-Valdez at Deep water horizonit’s the kind of imagery we’ve come to associate with oil in the ocean.
But a highway or a parking lot full of cars might be an even more accurate, if less charismatic, symbol. Land-based runoff is the main source of oil to the sea and up to 20 times higher than 20 years ago, according to a new report on North American waters from the National Academies science, engineering and medicine. Runoff flows from cities, highways and vehicles to rivers and the ocean.
The report, “Oil in the Sea: IV,” says the second biggest source is natural seepage, which is when oil enters the ocean through fractures or faults in the seabed. Oil spills are the third largest (and highly concentrated) source, followed by releases from oil and gas operations, such as offshore production or commercial vessels.
More people, more oil, more problems
OWCN director Michael Ziccardi of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is part of the 17-member committee that wrote the report. This is the National Academies’ first “Oil in the Sea” report in nearly 20 years.
The last two decades have brought more people, oil consumption, cars and pollution to North American shores. It has also brought more scientific, regulatory and technological advances to prevent and reduce the impacts of ocean oil pollution.
“Over the past 20 years, we have learned a lot about the effects of oil on animals and the marine environment, as well as improved our techniques to limit those impacts,” Ziccardi said. “This report also shows that there is so much more to learn. Although clean energy sources may eventually reduce the amount of oil in the sea, the impacts of oil in the ocean will be with us for a long time, so it is important that we close important knowledge gaps.
The report was released at the same time as the 14th Oil Effects on Wildlife Conference was taking place in Long Beach, Calif., where more than 160 scientists and stakeholders gathered to share knowledge on how to respond and address damage to wildlife.
The report notes that, despite progress, there have been decades of inaction to improve the way to measure sources of oil pollution.
For instance, while the report found that land-based runoff is the main source of oil in the sea, data to precisely quantify this source is largely unavailable. The report cites estimates of at least 1.2 million tons per year of petroleum hydrocarbons in North America from land-based sources, but more data is needed to fully distinguish petroleum sources from other forms of petroleum.
“Since the National Academies last considered this issue in 2002, little progress has been made in terms of sustained investment in research that could help us understand how much oil is entering the ocean and where it comes from. accurate,” said Kirsi Tikka. , independent non-executive director of Pacific Basin Shipping and Ardmore Shipping, and chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “We need this data to ensure the effectiveness of efforts to prevent harm to marine life and coastal communities.”
The report calls for sustained, long-term funding to better understand oil sources; how it behaves in the environment, animals and communities it touches; means of limiting and preventing its entry into the environment; and related strategies for adapting to rising sea levels, Arctic melting and a transitioning energy market.
It also recommends that federal agencies examine the integrity of coastal and offshore energy infrastructure to ensure they can withstand more frequent and intense weather events due to climate change.
How can I help?
The report states that individuals can help prevent the runoff of terrestrial oil by using less fossil fuels, reducing the use of gasoline-powered vehicles, improving fuel efficiency, using more electric vehicles and improving the car maintenance.
The report was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute; US Office of Ocean Energy Management; US Bureau of Safety and Environment; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative; and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Presidents’ Circle Fund.
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