Oil Spills

Oil Spills

Last Updated: March 2023

This article deals with ‘Oil Spills – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Environment’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles on Science and technology, you can click here.


The intentional or unintentional release of oil into ocean /coastal waters is known as an oil spill.

Scene of Oil Spill 

Impact of Oil Spills

  • Damage to fish, turtles, and crabs, among other marine animals. 
    • Decrease insulating capacity of the plumage of birds  
    • Ingestion by seabirds leads to kidney failure, dehydration, metabolic disorders etc.
    • Exposure to toxic petroleum products often results in lower reproductive rates.
Impact of Oil Spills
  • Loss of fisherman’s livelihood as venturing out into the sea is not safe. 
  • Consumers show reluctance to buy seafood, adding to the woes of fishermen.
  • Local tourism is impacted negatively as tourists avoid such places.
  • Heavy metals released along with oil starts to bioaccumulate in fishes and impact the whole food chain, including humans.
  • A variety of health effects may develop when an oil spill occurs close to where people live or work and may come in contact through breathing gaseous oil compounds.

India & Oil Spill: Response & Preparedness

  • The National Oil Spill-Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) adopted in 1996 has routinely been updated and revised.  
  • India has ratified the Bunker Convention 2001 regarding the civil liability for bunker oil pollution in 2015.
  • The government provides a subsidy to the pollution response equipment to the tune of 50%.


Recovery from oil spills is difficult & depends on many factors 

  1. Type of oil spilled 
  2. The temperature of the water that may affect evaporation & biodegradability 
  3. Type of shoreline involved 


Bioremediation or Biodegradation is the use of natural or genetically modified microbes to degrade pollutants (pesticides or hydrocarbons) in the presence of oxygen.

The only problem with bio-remediation is that it can’t be used to break down heavy metals such as mercury, lead etc. But bioremediation is the most crucial technique to clear oil spills.

Bioremediation Techniques

1. Oil Zapper

  • It is essentially a cocktail of five different bacterial strains that feed on crude oil and change it to carbon dioxide and water. 
  • It is developed by the TERI.

2. Oilivorous – S

  • Oilivorous-S has an additional bacterial strain that is effective in destroying Sulphur. Hence, it can be used to contain oil spills in case crude oil has high sulphur content.
  • It is developed by Indian Oil’s research and development wing.

Both Oil zapper and Oilivorous can be used in situ, thus eliminating the need to transfer the pollutant to a centralized plant.


Some latest oil spills in the news

1. Mauritius Oil Spill (2020)

  • Japanese ship struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tons.

2. Ennore/Kamarajar Port Oil spill (2017)

  • Oil Tankers collided, resulting in the Oil Spill wasn’t quickly contained, destroying marine life especially Olive Ridley Turtles and Migratory birds.

3. Sundarbans Oil Spill (2015)

  • An Oil Tanker passing through the Sela River in the Sundarbans met with an accident resulting in an oil spill. It did irreparable damage to the fragile economy of Sundarbans.

4. British Petroleum / Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (2010)

  • British Petroleum’s oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing huge oil spills in 2010.
  • It is the biggest oil spill ever happened in the history of mankind, in which 4 million barrels of oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico. 
  • British Petroleum had to pay $18.7 billion as a fine to the coastal states of the USA. 

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