How Does an Oil Spill Behave in the Environment?
Depending on where and how an oil spill occurs, it will have distinct environmental effects. For example:
- A marine oil spill is usually degraded fast since water is an excellent medium for dispersion, emulsifying and microbial degradation processes. If released in the water, oil and oil products tend to accumulate at the surface of the water and float on the water. Small oil droplets may also form which may increase the surface contact with water and also the natural biodegradation of the spilled oil
- An oil spill on the land may penetrate underground and move downward reaching eventually the groundwater. However, such vertical movement may be slowed done if not prevented by the presence of paved surfaces, natural clay layers or other natural or anthropogenic barriers. Oil may also move laterally along less permeable layers (including surface pavements) or with groundwater and surface waters
- An oil spill in the underground (such as from pipelines or underground storage tank leaking) will likely affect the groundwater since the vertical traveling distance is reduced. Such spill may also result in oil residuals that could be entrapped underground constituting a secondary source of groundwater pollution