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Oil Spill Pollution Control

Oil spills are happening in today’s society, despite the technological control and the continuously improved preventive measures. According to U.S. EPA, almost 14,000 oil spills are reported each year.

Oil spill control targets the limitation and reduction of the spreading of a spilled oil. This can be done in several ways, including:

  • Controlled burning of spilled oil – similar with controlled forest burning (to get rid of dry wood that may pose a hazard if left in place) is one of the more effective ways of getting rid of the spilled oil. The method is usually applicable on calm seas and soon after the oil film forms so that the oil did not mixed much with water. The method relies on the ignitability and combustibility of oils. Experience from Exxon Valdez spill denoted that the efficiency of this method is 90% of the captured oil. However, residuals from burning and the resulted fumes may affect air quality and may move around through air ending up on land at some distance from the spill area. Another caveat of this technique is that some heavy petroleum compounds (such as high-molecular weight asphaltenes and tars) are usually left behind (unburned).
  • Use of barriers and adsorbant materials – to mechanically contain and recover the spilled oil is a common method especially when oil spill happens in a water environment. The aim is to use physical barriers for mechanical prevention of spill spreading. Some of the barriers may also chemically interact with the spilled oil and thus providing both mechanical and chemical control means. A variety of barriers are used to control oil spills, including:
    • booms – fire resistant booms are used for oil spills control especially when controlled burning is applied (in order to restrict the burning area);
    • skimmers – are usually propylene mop-like pads that are placed on the ocean surface to adsorb the spilled oil film;
    • natural and synthetic sorbent materials – the use of sorbent materials is a very common method of controlling a large variety of spills including oil spills. The general principle relies on using materials with a sponge-like behavior. These materials have the ability of removing some of the spilled oil as well as serving as physical barrier limiting oil migration.
  • Spraying of dispersants:
    • from airplanes into the slicks (traditional method) – usually consisting in a mixture of surfactants and solvents which acts like soaps. The result is the fine dispersing of oil and mixing with water followed by increased efficiency of natural microbial degradation processes.
    • under water – method which was recently experimented by BP experts in order to increase the natural attenuation of spilled oil and possible prevent it to reach water surface
    • A caveat of this method relates to the potential toxic effects of dispersants themselves to wildlife and coral reefs. Additionally, the use of dispersants makes the oil more available to uptake into marine life.
  • Use of surface films (monomolecular surface films) – certain surface films applied around oil spilled on water were proven to significantly compress the oil affected area into a thick layer than can be easier recovered. This technique first proven in early 1970’s was incorporated by the Navy into the control programs for bays and harbors, having the ability to reduce damage to environment, fishing and properties.
  • Use of chemical and biological methods for cleaning up of oil spills – using methods that increase chemical and/or biological natural degradation processes of spilled oil. These methods are used in conjunction with mechanical control techniques. The use of biological agents to help clean-up oil spills is especially relevant when the spill has reached a sensitive ecosystem such as wetlands.
  • Other methods may also be used for particular situations such as:
    • physical methods – generally used to clean-up the shorelines, involve mechanical removal methods such as: wiping with sorbents, raking and bulldozing, or pressure washing.
    • scare tactics – basically involve preventing wild animals and birds to reach oil spilled areas. Examples are devices such as: helium-filled balloons, floating dummies, or scare-cans.

If by any chance you might think that you or your family have been affected by an oil spill, please contact us.