The effects of oil spillage on the environment


According to Olojoba (2005), oil spillage is the release of liquid petroleum oil into the environment especially marine areas, causing hazard to the ecosystem.

Oil spills may result from tanker, underwater pipeline, offshore platforms, drilling rings and wells as well as refined petroleum products (diesel) and their by-products that are discharged into the environment (Chinweze, 2004).

Odje (2003) explained that oil spillage can have disastrous effect on the society; both economically, environmentally socially and health wise. As a result of these effects, oil spill accidents can initiate intense hazard on the ecosystem.

Dispute substantial notional and international policy improvements on preventing oil spills adopted in recent decades, large oil spillage keep accruing and take weeks, months or even years to clean up (Otalekor, 2002).

Causes of oil spillage

Unuraye and Olojoba (2003) as cited in Olojoba (2009) stated the causes of oil spillage in the environment which include:

  • Pipeline vandalization
  • Erosion and accident
  • Oil production operation
  • Corrosion
  • Natural hazard
  • Other causes

These causes are further explained below:

Pipeline vandalization

Pipeline canalization refers to the illegal or unauthorized activities that involved the destruction of oil pipeline to disrupt supply or the puncturing of oil pipeline to siphon crude oil or its refined products in order to appropriate it for personal use or any other outlet which may be as a result grievance, unemployment, corruption or poverty.

Erosion and accident

Spillage occurs through this process, if the pipeline passes through water or area where there is a runoff thereby wearing the parts where the pipes are sealed. Also during farming and construction works, pipes can easily be affected accidentally and spill occurs.

Oil production operations

During production, there might arise failure from the equipment, blow-out of oil leading to spillage. In the marine environment, there is bound to be operational discharge which could affect the aquatic lives and even human health.


This occurs as a result of rupture of rust effect in pipelines, tanks and other equipment. Every metal has a natural tendency to revert back to its original mineral form and the more high processed finished metal, the more easily the reversion phenomenon occurs. It is also said that electro chemical reaction between the metal and its environment in which the site reverts causes corrosion to the pipe thereby leading to oil spillage.

Natural hazard

This is related to damage arising from landslide and flooding, such occurrence are in any case extremely rare and the risk is reduced by careful routine investigation to avoid possible problem areas such as in mining regions and by intelligent, observation of warning signs during periodic inspection.

Other sources

These include the transportation of transfer of oil from the stock to tank leading to accidental leakage of oil from the tank, resulting to oil spillage.

Effects of oil spillage on the ecosystem

Oil spillage has great effects on the environment which cannot be over emphasis. These effects include:

Effects on air

Evaporated hydrocarbon gases from rents of small storage tanks containing pure crude oil at flow stations tend to mix up with the surrounding air, thereby polluting the atmosphere and some of the diseases associated with air degradation are: asthma, lung cancer, chest pain among other respiratory diseases (Lucas & Gilles, 1984).

Effects on animals

When there is oil spillage, the hydrocarbons are deposited on the plant, grasses etc. thereby contaminating them. When an animal gets in contact with these hydrocarbons during grazing, they tend to be exposed to serious health hazard which could lead to high mortality rate in the animals. One of such diseases caused by these hydrocarbons in animals is flourosis. Flourosis is characterized in animals is by mottled teeth and a condition of the joints known as exestosis leading to lameness and death (Olomukoro, 2005).

Effects on plants

Agricultural products are affected as a result of the pressure of the spill on the soil, leading to the destruction of the plants and thereby resulting in low agricultural productivity. In other resulting in low agricultural productivity. In other words, when plants are affected, the result is reduction in plants growth and crop yield. However, hydrocarbons can block stomata in plants leaves thereby reducing the passage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in to leaf and exit of oxygen from leaf during photosynthesis and sunlight reaching the interior of the leaf is also reduced (Olojoba, 2009)

Effects on human’s health

The chemical contents in crude oil accumulate in fishes and other aquatic creatures during spillage. When they are being consumed by individuals, such persons tend to be infected. The hazardous effect of consuming petroleum could be long term, with possible poisoning of the blood and heart as well as leading to cancer and eventually death (Olojoba, 2009).

Effects on water

Oil spillage leads to water pollution and contamination of underground water, stream, rivers and ponds which serve as community’s source of drinking water. Assisted by capillary drainage and gravity, oil spillage on land eventually finds its way to the water table and underground water sources. The extent of effects and rate of downward movement depends on the factors such as soil texture, depth of water table, viscosity and quality of the oil spillage as it reaches the water table to considerable distant body of the portable water thereby contaminating water. The presence of hydrocarbons (petroleum products) in water also depletes oxygen content in the water, thus contaminating the water and destroying aquatic lives (Gupta & Mahajan, 2005).

Indirect effects

Loss of shelter or habitat through clean-up operations in the environment (William, Mary & Barbara, 2005)

Prevention/control measures of oil spillage

According to Richard, (2007) oil spillage can be prevented and control in the following ways:

  • Training of persons for oil pollution and prevention will enable decisions to be made properly and will produce sufficient and competent personnel’s to manage pollution.
  • The trained scientists should be involved in ongoing research in soil and water affected by oil spillage, using environmental friendly effective materials.
  • There should be an immediate replacement of oil weak and fragile oil pipelines, and the recycling of new lines deeply buried in the soil to minimize and prevent spillage due to burst of pipes.
  • Oil companies and communities should provide ways of making oil spillage by vandalizations less lucrative in the society
  • Community education and integration necessary to increase awareness among the people on the danger of destruction of lives and properties as well as kidnapping but rather seeking redness through legal means.
  • Designing facilities that are increasing reliable, safe and efficient.
  • Conducting maintenance and inspection campaign on a very regular basis.
  • Selecting means of transportation and routes that limit the risk of accident.


Conclusively, oil spillage has caused great hazard in the ecosystem and its effects cannot be over emphasized. Therefore if government and the society can fight against pipeline vandalization and other causes as well as implement preventive and control measures stated, then oil spillage would be a thing of the past.


It is therefore recommended that persons should be trained for oil pollutions prevention to enable decisions to be made properly, using  leak detection device to identify any source of spill, selecting means of transportation and routes that limit the risk of accident and ensure community education necessary to increase awareness among the people on the danger of deliberately causing oil spillage that can lead to destruction of lives and properties but rather seeking readiness through legal means.


Chinweze, T. A. (2007). Oil Pipeline Sabotage in Nigeria: Dimensions, Actors and Implications for National Security. African Security Review, 17(3), 42-7.

Cunnigham, W.  P., Cunningham, M. & Saigo, B. W. (2005). Oil in the Sea 3: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, D.C.: National Academy.

Department of Petroleum Resources (2004). Environmental Guidelines and Standards for Petroleum Industry in Nigeria. Abuja: Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

Gupta, M. C. & Mahajan, B. K. (2005). Textbook of Preventive and Social Medicine. (3rd ed.). New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers (P) Ltd

Lucas, A. O. & Giles H. M. (1984). A Short Textbook of Preventive Medicine for the Tropics. (2nd ed.) London: Hodder and Stoughten.

Odje A.M., (Oct.17th, 2003). “The Niger Delta and Expropriatory laws: Time for resources control,” The Guardian.

Olojoba, A. O. (2005). Fundamental of Industrial and Environmental Health Management. Ughelli: Ama Ohoror.

Olojoba, A. O. (2009). Millennium Technology in Waste Management and Environmental Pollution Mitigation. Ughelli: Ama Ohoror

Olomukor, J.O. (2005). Environmental Pollution and Its Implication in Nigeria. Animal and Environmental Biology. Benin City: University of Benin Press.

Richard, S. O. (2007). Oil Will it Ever Runout? Pennsylvania:  Awake New pp. 3-12.

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