What Are Oil Spills?

Unintended Release Of Oil Into The Environment

  • Oil spills can occur above ground, underground or at sea and are most dangerous when they directly impact waterways and marine ecosystems. When oil leaks into the environment naturally through oil seeps, it is not considered a spill, as oil spills must be the result of human activity.
  • When most people think of oil spills, they think of major catastrophes, such as the Exxon Valdez spill or the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast. However, oil spills are not limited to explosions on oil rigs and leaks on major pipelines. If oil leaks from motor vehicles, home oil tanks or other sources, it is also considered a spill. Even on land, this oil drains into waterways and eventually makes its’ way to lakes, the ocean and coastal habitats.

Oil Spill Effects

Everyone knows oil spills are dangerous, but not everyone understands the full extent of the damage they cause. Oil spills have a far-reaching impact on the environment and the lives of people.

  • Why are oil spills bad for the environment? Oil spills pose the greatest threat to birds and marine life. When oil coats birds’ plumage, it impacts their ability to insulate and they ingest harmful toxins while preening. Since oil floats on water, large patches of oil on lakes and oceans minimize sunlight, destroy plant life and ruin natural food chains.
  • How do oil spills impact people? Spilled oil includes toxic chemicals known to cause cancer. It can ruin air quality and contaminate drinking water. When oil spills damage shorelines, it impacts everything from recreational use to local economies that rely on fishing, tourism and related industries.

Oil Spill Cleanup And Prevention

  • The best method for cleaning an oil spill depends on a number of factors, including the type of spill, the amount of oil lost and the type of environment directly impacted. Common cleanup methods on waterways include using chemicals and biological particles to break down the oil, burning off the oil and using a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water.
  • Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With millions of gallons of oil spilled every year in North America alone, it is imperative we find better ways to extract, transport and store oil, so we can prevent costly spills.


Contact Us

Oil Spill Prevention Program

  • ATS has a complete oil spill prevention program for facility owners.   This program makes it easy to perform routine inspections.
  • Many regulations require monthly inspections on above ground tanks to identify high risk problems with tanks.
  • Ask for a copy of our inspection checklist and our online inspection data management.

Oil Spill Reporting Required

  • If more than 1,000 gallons of oil spills into navigable waters or shorelines, the spill must be reported immediately.
  • Facilities that are required to maintain SPCC plans, have a more stringent reporting requirement.   Any spill that exceeds 42 gallons on two separate occasions within a 12 month period are required to report the event in writing to the EPA regional office.
  • Spill reporting contact number: 1-800-424-8802

Contact one of our specialists for your free oil prevention guide.