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Oil and the health of the oceans.

Petroleum has seeped naturally into the world's oceans for centuries, if not for millions of years. But when modern industry came on the scene, the amount, distribution and type of petroleum entering the oceans changed dramatically. Today, the total input of petroleum from all sources is between 1.7 million and 8.8 million metric tons per year (mta), according to the National Research Council. Nonetheless, the authors of a newly released Council report called "Oil in the Sea" heave found "no evident irrevocable damage to marine resources on a broad oceanic scale, by either chronic inputs or occasional major oil spills."

Ten years ago when the Council published a smiliar report, scientists were most concerned about tanker accidents and offshore oil production, which are now said to contribute 0.4 and 0.05 mta, respectively, to marine oil production. In the new report, the focus has shifted instead to chronic inputs such as routine tanker operations (0.7 mta), municipal wastes (0.7 mta), other runoff and wastes (0.5 mta), bilge and fuel oils (0.3 mta) and petroleum transported through rainwater or the atmosphere (0.3 mta).

Since the 1975 report, the state of knowledge about the fate and effect of oil pollution has improved considerably. For example, researchers now know that one-third to two-thirds of oil spilled on the sea surface evaporates. But there still remain enough gaps in understanding for the report to conclude that an "unequivocal assessment of the impact of oil on the environment does not yet exist." Major research needs include studies on the effects of chronic, low levels of petroleum on fish stocks, especially larval and juvenile fish, and on other marine life, as well as the impact of oil on tropical and polar environments, where much oil development is planned or under way.
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Title Annotation:offshore oil industry and the environment
Publication:Science News
Date:May 18, 1985
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