Why do we care about small oil leaks?

There are thousands of “hidden” oil spills across the United States each year.

Vocabulary: oil spill, crude oil, environmental impact
NGSS: ESS3.C-Human Impacts on Earth Systems, LS4.D-Biodiversity and Humans


Grand Isle Block 48 Oil Drilling Platform, 1957. Credit: E.F. Patterson/USGS/ Wikimedia Commons
Audio Excerpt “Hidden Oil Spills” 12/9/2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.

Questions for Students

  • Using the estimates provided by Nick Stockton, calculate how many gallons of crude oil are leaking into the ocean as a result of “small” oil spills.
  • Based on your calculations, do you think that the government should alter the regulation of small leaks? How do you balance the potential environmental benefits of regulation with the impact on the companies that own oil rigs?
  • Right now the government depends on oil companies to report when and how much crude oil is leaked. Do you think that companies accurately report these numbers? How do you suggest the government get a more accurate estimate of how much oil is leaked each year?

Activity Suggestion

  • After listening to the segment, read this article about the extent of small oil spills and the problem of relying upon oil companies to self-report leaks. Taking into account budgetary constraints of the Coast Guard, have students devise a way to keep companies honest about their oil spill reporting.
  • Continuing studying the potential environmental impact of non-renewable energy, check out these resources on fracking.