Oil spill response

Spills of oil and other noxious and hazardous substances create both nuisance and hazardous conditions and can be very harmful to the aquatic environment.

As a nuisance, these contaminants can affect recreational activities for those that use beaches and waterways. From a hazardous perspective, some oils and other substances can constitute a fire and explosion hazard. In some places where industry relies heavily on water for cooling, or as a part of desalination processes, these operations need to be shut down during spills. As part of clean up operations where protective booms and skimmers are used, normal vessel operations may also need to cease. Spills can have major biological effects, as little as one-part-per-billion of dissolved oil can impact on aquatic life. They can cause physical contamination and smothering, and have toxic effects including accumulation and tainting.

Floating oil slicks cause environmental damage by smothering and fouling when they reach the shoreline. For example, oil can block the air-breathing roots of mangroves. Spilt oil can be absorbed into the sediments and contaminate worm and crab burrows, where it can persist and cause impacts on aquatic life for years after the spill occurred. Wildlife, in particular waterbirds, is at risk from oil spills due to the fouling of their plumage. Waterbirds can be poisoned by ingesting oil from their plumage or by eating oil-contaminated prey.

Most marine spills in Queensland occur in port areas due to frequent vessel movements and potential refueling accidents. A small number of spills occur in freshwater streams, typically from fuel tanker incidents. There are many small spillages in Queensland’s marine waters every year.

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) is the lead agency in responding to such incidents. The department assists MSQ and will respond to oiled wildlife.