Discovery Guides Areas


Deep Sea Oil Spill Cleanup Techniques: Applicability, Trade-offs and Advantages
(Released August 2010)

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  by Pam Graham  


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As the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, recovering large amounts of crude oil from a spill is a daunting task. The range of clean-up efforts varies widely and depends on a number of factors, including oil type and density, water temperature, the volume of the spill, proximity to shorelines, waves, currents, weather and speed of response, among others. From low-tech approaches, such as physical containment and skimming and burning, to high-tech methods that use sophisticated dispersants--giant separators that basically vacuum oil from the surface--and seeding with oil-eating microorganisms, the technique(s) applied to any given spill must be carefully chosen.

workers on beach
Workers shovel oiled sand hit by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil

The principal U.S. federal agency in charge of funding and coordinating oil spill response research for the past 25 years, the Minerals Management Service, has focused on technologies to detect, contain and clean up oil spills that may occur on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. This Discovery Guide takes a brief look at detection technologies and more thoroughly explores the advantages and trade-offs inherent in today's most viable oil spill remediation technologies.

Countless marine and terrestrial wildlife species rely on sea and coastal habitats for food, cover and breeding space, creating a variety of ways for spilled oil to threaten fish, birds, mammals and reptiles. This Discovery Guide ends with a discussion of cleaning and rehabilitation of oil-impacted wildlife.

Since the universally recognized key to avoiding catastrophic damage is fast response, the effectiveness of any cleanup effort begins with timely detection and accurate appraisal of an oil spill's source, location, size, thickness, depth and more.

Go To Detection and Assessment of an Oil Spill's Extent

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