Answers to: The Oil Spill Quiz



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Answers to:

The Oil Spill Quiz

Most of us use oil, or products made from oil, every day. We use it to fuel our cars, trucks, and buses, and to heat our houses; to lubricate all types of machinery; to make the asphalt we use to pave roads; to make plastics; and to make medicines, ink, fertilizers, pesticides, paints, varnishes, and electricity. It’s important to understand that because we rely on oil, we run the risk of oil spills. All of us share responsibility both for creating the problem of oil spills and for finding ways to solve the problem.


Take this interactive quiz to test your knowledge of oil spills, as well as what you have learned about the recovery of Prince William Sound since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Good luck!



  1. Of the Exxon Valdez oil that now remains in Prince William Sound, the majority is located where?

    1. On the surface of sandy, cobbled, or rocky beaches.

    2. In the water of the Sound.

    3. In the sediments at the bottom of the Sound.

    4. In the subsurface sediments of sandy, cobbled, or rocky beaches.

    5. None of the above.

The correct answer is D; most of the remaining oil from the Exxon Valdez is now located in the subsurface (meaning below the surface) sediments of the beaches that were affected by the spill.





  1. Oil is ONLY harmful to an animal if it is ingested (swallowed).

    1. True

    2. False

The correct answer is BFalse.
Not only does oil sicken or kill animals when they ingest it when cleaning themselves, but oil can harm them in a variety of other ways. For example, oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters, and the water-repellant properties of a bird's feathers, thus exposing them to the harsh elements. Oil can also cause liver damage or blindness. A sick or impaired animal cannot compete for food or avoid predators, which decrease its chances of survival. Oil can also impair reproduction, possibly affecting the future of the species’ population.
In addition, thick layers of oil washing ashore can smother aquatic invertebrates (barnacles, limpets, periwinkle snails, hermit crabs, polychaete worms, etc.), which are important food sources for insectivores such as fish and birds. Oil also changes the physical environment for plants and animals by forming hard, asphalt-like pavements, which cover and smother the vegetation and other living things that organisms depend on for food, water, and shelter.



  1. Oil spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez because:

    1. it ran into an iceberg.

    2. it collided with another ship.

    3. it ran aground on a beach.

    4. it ran aground on a reef.

    5. None of the above.

The correct answer is D—it ran aground on a reef.


Shortly after leaving the Port of Valdez in March 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. As a result, its hull ruptured and nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the sound. The ship was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid an iceberg. The spilled oil would eventually affect over 1,100 miles of coastline in Alaska, making it the largest oil spill to occur in U.S. waters to date.



  1. Which of the following statements is TRUE regarding the ultimate fate of the nearly 11 million gallons of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez?

    1. Most of the oil ended up on the beaches of Prince William Sound.

    2. Most of the oil evaporated, dispersed in the water of the sound, or degraded through natural processes.

    3. Most of the oil was recovered and removed by cleanup crews.

    4. Most of the oil sank to the bottom subtidal areas of Prince William Sound and still resides in those sediments.

    5. None of the above.


The correct answer is B.
The great majority of the oil evaporated, dispersed into the water column or degraded naturally through processes such as photolysis. Cleanup crews recovered about 14 percent of the oil, and approximately 13 percent sank to the sea floor. Only about 2 percent (some 216,000 gallons) remained on the beaches. 



  1. Based on their research, scientists have learned that it is always preferable to clean up an oiled beach as opposed to simply leaving it alone to recover naturally.

    1. True

A.False

The correct answer is B—False.


Because of the research conducted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists now know that their attempts to clean up an oil spill can also indirectly cause harm to some of the resources they are trying to protect. For example, using hot water or chemicals to remove oil can harm plants and animals. In addition, simply sending a team of cleanup workers into an oiled area can trample sensitive organisms and mix oil more deeply into a beach or marsh. The experts who respond to oil spills consider all of these potential problems when evaluating the trade-offs of how far to go in removing spilled oil.



  1. Today, the LEAST weathered oil in Prince William Sound is typically found:

B.exposed on the surface of beaches.

C.floating in the water of the sound.

D.buried in the sediments of beaches.

E.right below the surface of beaches.

F.on rocks and boulders.

The correct answer is C; the LEAST weathered oil in Prince William Sound is found buried in the sediments of beaches.


The remaining oil generally lies below the surface of the beaches in places that are very sheltered from the actions of wind and waves (which help to break down and remove stranded oil), and on beaches where oil initially penetrated very deeply and was not removed. At these beaches, there are signs of weathered oil on the surface and deposits of fresher oil buried beneath. Sometimes this oil makes its way to the surface and can be seen as a sheen on the water as the tide comes in.



  1. All of the following marine organisms are typically found in the intertidal zone of Prince William Sound EXCEPT:

G.Barnacles

H.Mussels

I.Rockweed

J.giant kelp

K.periwinkle snails

The correct answer is D—giant kelp.


Giant kelp forests are found in the subtidal zone (or sublittoral zone)—the area on the coastline below the low water line. Organisms living in the subtidal zone are not affected by the daily tides because they are always underwater. All of the other marine organisms in the list reside in the intertidal zone—areas that are alternately exposed to seawater (at high tide) and to the atmosphere (at low tide) every day.



  1. Oil is a mixture of many different chemicals.

L.True

M.False

The correct answer is A—True.


Oil is typically a mixture of many different chemicals. Not only does each of these chemicals have its own toxicity, but each also behaves differently in the environment. Some components are much more volatile than others, and so they tend to evaporate more rapidly when oil is spilled. Some components of oil are more easily broken down by naturally occurring oil-degrading microbes in the water and on the shorelines. Sunlight can also degrade oil components.
Proportions in the mixture vary even within a single category of oil, like crude oil. For example, Arabian crude oil differs in composition from Louisiana crude oil, which differs from Alaska North Slope crude oil. The Alaska North Slope crude oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound contains many chemicals that can kill plants or animals outright or injure them to the extent that they may not be able to survive in the wild.



  1. Scientists might “fingerprint” a sample of oil collected at a spill site:

N.to determine where the oil originated.

O.to determine its chemical components.

P.to attempt to determine who spilled it.

Q.to determine how and if it has weathered.

R.All of the above.

The correct answer is E; all of the above.


The chemical composition of oil found in the environment yields important clues about where it came from. The process of determining where an oil residue originated is what scientists call "fingerprinting” or “source fingerprinting." Source fingerprinting is a complex procedure that is part art and part science, relying both on the experience of the analytical chemist and on the results of ratios between certain components in a mix. Similar to the literal uses of fingerprinting, experienced chemists can analyze the evidence left at a "crime scene" (spill site) to make a reasonable determination of "whodunit"—that is, if a residue is, in fact, oil, where it might have originated, and, possibly, who spilled it. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard uses such forensic methods to determine whom the responsible party is when an oil spill with no known source washes up on a shoreline. The degree to which oil has weathered is reflected in the changes in chemical composition of oil residues over time. The more closely the chemical composition of a residue resembles that of the unspilled oil, the "fresher" it is.



  1. What happens to oil when it first hits the water?

S.It sinks to the bottom and mixes with the sediments.

T.It mixes in evenly throughout the water.

U.It floats, and then spreads out quickly on the water’s surface, forming an oil slick.

V.All of the above.

The correct answer is C. When first spilled, oil floats, forming an oil slick.


Freshly spilled oil floats on salt water (the ocean and the salty portion of bays) and usually floats on fresh water (rivers, streams, and lakes). Very heavy oil can sometimes sink in fresh water, but this happens very rarely. Oil usually spreads out rapidly across the water surface to form a thin layer that is called an oil slick. As the spreading process continues, the layer becomes thinner and thinner, finally becoming a very thin layer called a sheen (or a film), which often looks like a rainbow. You may have seen sheens on roads or parking lots after a rain.








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