U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Leaking oil tankers produce dramatic photos,
but a new study says the vast majority of the human-related petroleum
released into U.S. coastal waters comes from consumers, not the ships
that carry the oil.
The National Research Council has reported that about 29 million
gallons of oil enter the oceans around North America each year as a
result of human activities. Of that, the largest share, 15.6 million
gallons, comes from rivers and runoff, largely from such things as
street runoff, industrial waste, municipal wastewater and wastewater
In addition, 1.6 million gallons of the pollution comes from
recreational vessels, where two-stroke engines that mix oil and gas
are often used in personal watercraft and as outboard engines.
``Oil spills can have long-lasting and devastating effects on the
ocean environment, but we need to know more about damage caused by
petroleum from land-based sources and small watercraft,'' commented
James M. Coleman of Louisiana State University, chairman of the
committee that prepared the study.
The heavily populated coastline from Maine to Virginia accounts
for more than half of the land-based oil pollution in U.S. waters,
with another 20 percent in the Gulf of Mexico.
The report urged that federal officials work with state agencies
to better monitor oil discharges and suggested that the Environmental
Protection Agency work to phase out two-stroke engines.
Another significant source of pollution was ``atmospheric
deposition,'' that is oil that is deposited on the ocean surface as a
result of emissions into the air from motor vehicles, power
generating facilities, industrial plants and similar sources. That
was estimated to total 6.1 million gallons.
Spills from tankers accounted for 1.5 million gallons of pollution
and 551,000 gallons came from pipeline spills, the report found.
The single largest source of oil in the oceans bordering North
America is natural seeps from undersea oil sources, releasing an
estimated 46.4 million gallons annually.
Worldwide, vessel and pipeline spills were blamed for release of
32.5 million gallons annually into the oceans. Runoff adds another 41
million gallons and international operational discharges from
vessels, such as from cargo washing, was listed as producing an added
78 million gallons of pollution. Such discharges are illegal in North
The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of
Sciences, a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the
government on scientific matters.
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