Two of the most notable oil spills were the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in Prince William Sound near the coast of Alaska, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon underwater leak in the Gulf of Mexico, commonly known as the BP oil spill. Though relatively rare, these major oil spills in the ocean pose a number of environmental, business and societal problems.

Financial Consequences

Oil spills are extremely costly to clean up. A major financial disaster like a spill would ruin many smaller companies, and this amount certainly set BP and its investors back for many years. Local governments along the coasts, individuals and businesses that rely on the waterways are also financially impacted by spills. Governments often have to allocate labor and equipment resources to the cleaning effort, and to insulate beaches and waterfronts from damage. Businesses and individuals may face roadblocks to commercial transportation or fishing production.

Wildlife Devastation

Environmental groups are usually among the most outspoken critics following an oil spill. Lasting images of birds and other wildlife struggling to move through the sludge linger after major spills. The death toll after the Exxon spill included around 2,800 sea otters and 250,000 sea birds, according to the Oracle Education Foundation's ThinkQuest website. Many whales, seals and eagles also died as a result. Along with the basic problem of thousands of dead animals, these events also disrupt the natural water-based food chain for months or years.

Time and Resources

Not only are oil spills costly to clean but they also take a lot of time and resources. The Exxon spill covered a 1,300 mile area and took four summers to clean, as noted on the Oracle ThinkQuest site. The spill also required the efforts of 10,000 workers, hundreds of boats and planes, and significant amounts of man hours worked by U.S. military service members.

Inaccessible Waterways

Inaccessible waterways are a related problem due to the amount of water covered by oil and the length of time it takes to clean spills. When boats and crews are cleaning, individual and commercial boats can't navigate the various waterways. In many cases, they still have a way through ocean channels or passes, but the spill may take boaters hundreds or even thousands of miles off course. These detours can delay shipments of cargo, including seafood.

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