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Different Ways to Clean Up Oil Spills

Updated on July 4, 2010

As the ever growing amount of barrels of oil being spewed by the deep sea BP oil ring, what are the most common ways to clean up an oil spill?

Many diverse and unusual practices have been used on shore for decades on oil clean ups such as on site oil spill burning, chemicals added and straw bales used. The removal of the top layer of contaminated sand taken to a quarry and washed and pressure washing beach boulders and rocks close to the final cleaning stage.

The use of human hair turned into mats, and even feathers have been used at times for oil spill cleanup. US coastal environment groups keep absorbent mats and containment booms in case of an oil spill to protect their area.

In the case with off-shore rigs out in the open sea other methods can be used to reduce drastically the disasters it can provoke before winds and currents carry the oil spill on to coastlines! 

Burning the Oil Spill at the Source

In very specific conditions, oil spills are every now and then burned away, but it's used most often as a last-minute effort. On the site burning of oil was firstly used in this BP oil spill. The burning of oil can have a negative impact on ocean life.

Oil Containment Booms

The first line of action when an oil spill occurs is to use a floating barrier known as a containment boom. They come in many different shapes, sizes and colors but mostly look like long floating sausages that have about a foot or more of skirt under water and these imbedded with weights for stabilization and increased containment capacity in case of bigger swells and winds. This keep the oil from dispersing further out into the sea until it can be removed.

Sea conditions are hard to forecast and containment booms are used in light and rather calm sea conditions. In the case where there is a storm brewing in the area this method can come out to be rather useless, as oil floats, heavy swells and winds would carry a great part of the oil spill over the boom, dispersing it even more!

Natural Oil Spill Cleanup Products

As the larger volume of the oil spill has been collected, natural absorbents (commonly refereed to as sorbents) are added to the surface of the ocean. Absorbents that attract oil and repel water are the ones that are most sought. A company in the US manufactures absorbent mats out of donated hair for cleaning up oil spills. Also other products used these past decades are, sawdust, straw, hay, sheep's wool, corn cobs, peat moss and feathers.

Removing Oil with Dispersing Agents

Dispersing chemicals that are used to remove oil from the sea are always a concern for many. When added to the oil spill some of these products provoke a progressive clumping of oil for easier collection, others break up the molecular structure and some ends up slowly sinking to the sea bed! Some of these chemicals are quite toxic and various groups claim that these chemicals will soon be in our food chain!

Removing Oil with Biologic Agents

Biologically manufactured agents that "naturally digest" oil in the sea are enzymes and microorganisms that “eat” oil used in techniques like bio augmentation and biostimulation. A number of these methods result in the oil bonding with another product and then falling to the sea bed as well where the damage may be far greater and again provoke a negative impact on flora and fauna and consequentially on the quality of sea foods we consume.


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    • nelson soares profile image

      nelson soares 7 years ago from Sunny Algarve

      Thats a very comprehensive hub you got there! Good work and thanks for the read!

    • profile image

      zetchi 7 years ago

      suggestion methods and tools kit that used to clean up oil spills on the surface of water and land.