It's the sort of story you just don't like to read about.

On Wednesday, a container ship bound for South Korea struck a tower supporting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, resulting in about 58,000 gallons of oil being spilled into San Francisco bay.

The oil has apparently spread around the bay, with some of it moving beyond the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean. It's reportedly been sighted about 15 miles north of the city and has resulted in at least eight area beaches being closed.

A spill of this nature always seems to conjure up images of the Exxon Valdez, the big tanker that ran aground in Alaska in 1989. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) is involved in litigation concerning that incident to this day.

Typically, the biggest victims of spills are fish and wildlife in the vicinity. In San Francisco, dozens of dead and injured seabirds have been found coated in oil. Up to 15 search teams were dispatched Friday to search for affected animals that could still be saved.

Spills can occur in a variety of ways. For instance, last year a BP (NYSE:BP) pipeline serving the Prudhoe Bay field crumbled, resulting in a spill and a shutdown for repairs. More bizarre was the February 2002 spill 17 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. That spill was attributed to the SS Jacob Luckenbach, which had sunk 50 years earlier, only to have its fuel begin seeping to the surface after half a century.

But whatever the cause, another more subtle loser whenever oil or product ends up where it shouldn't -- and especially when wildlife is affected -- is the entirety of the energy sector. Unfortunately, that will be true in the current case, even though the spill hasn't the slightest relationship to oil drilling or production. With crude prices spiraling toward $100 a barrel and an all-hands-on-deck effort needed to increase current production, this sort of inevitable publicity spillover will be anything but helpful.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.