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Oil Spill Cleanup FAQs

Oil Spill FAQs

How is oil spill cleanup conducted?

After assessment of the situation, oil spill cleanup begins by deploying booms to contain the oil. Often times, oil can be deflected and contained near collection points where it will then be removed through use of skimmers. If the oil is spilled in open water, specialized oil spill response vessels are required.


What type of skimmers are used in oil spill cleanup?

The two major types of oil skimmers used in oil spill cleanup are oleophilic and weir skimmers. Oleophilic skimmers use water repelling materials which limit the intake of water, and greatly increases the concentration of oil collected. This method tends to be beneficial in lowering costs of excess water disposal. Wier skimmers are less selective than the oleophilic skimmers, and are helpful in collecting debris and other undesirable items in the marine environment. While this means that the oil is less pure than that which is collected by oleophilic skimmers, wier skimmers are easier to transport and can be operated by a single person.


What is the importance of oil spill cleanup?

Unmanaged oil spills pose significant threats to the environment. Oil spills have direct impact on marine life when animals that consume the oil or are coated in heavy oils. Immediate oil spill cleanup drastically increases the chance of survival of many species. When large populations are effected, secondary impacts are seen in disruption of delicate food chains.


What factors are considered in an oil spill cleanup?

When assessing a situation for oil spill cleanup, there are several elements to consider. Oil type and quantity, spill source, environment, marine life, and proximity to populated areas are all necessary considerations.


What issues complicate oil spill cleanup?

The difficulty of oil spill cleanup jobs vary greatly depending on complications that may arise from environmental factors. Wind, sun, wave and water patterns are all potential complications that may spread the oil faster and more widely than anticipated. In rivers, oceans, or other continually changing marine environments, timely action is often essential for effective oil spill cleanup.


How long does it take for the environment to recover after oil spill cleanup?

Environmental recovery time is greatly varied, depending on the situation. While an environment may reach near normality within a few years, larger spills sites may continue to see the effects for decades. In the Exxon Valdez oil spill, researchers are finding some marine populations to be lower than the pre-spill numbers, 25 years after the initial oil spill cleanup.


Is it possible to clean up oil completely?

The goal of an oil spill cleanup is remove as much oil from the environment as possible. Because so many factors are involved, it is sometimes not possible to eliminate oil from the spill location. Oil may sometimes form tar balls, dense masses of oil mixed with solid particles which sink, making them difficult to remove by skimming methods. Oil may also mix with sand or soil, again making it difficult to remove. The best way to ensure no oil in an environment is to prevent spills from occurring.


How are animals cared for after oil spills?

Once the oil spill cleanup has been completed, the next phase is to treat animals affected by the spill. Rescuers collect all oiled animals, examine them, and feed and hydrate them before giving them a few days rest. They are then washed several times with specialized oil removing agents, and placed in species appropriate housing where their health can be monitored. When deemed ready for release, the animals are then examined one final time, tagged, and released. These animals are often times revisited to assess long term oil spill effects and rescue efforts.


Besides using boom and skimmers, what other methods exist for oil spill cleanup?

Depending on the spill, collecting and skimming the oil may not be appropriate. Largescale oil spill cleanup jobs may be done by burning the oil atop the water; though effective, this method produces toxic smoke and can only be done in areas located far from marine life and human settlements. Bacteria is also sometimes used, as the bacteria feed on the oil and help to naturally eliminate the oil. Chemical dispersants are also sometimes used to break large slicks into small droplets. If the spill is deemed harmless to the environment, it may be left untreated, as the sun will eventually evaporate oil broken up by moving water.


What type of oil is most difficult to remove during oil spill cleanup?

Oil spills are greatly varied, and so are the oils that are spilled. Very light, volatile oils (gasoline, jet fuel, etc) are most likely to evaporate rapidly and are usually left unmanaged when spilled. Heavier, denser oils (crude oil) pose more of an issue, as the evaporation rate is very low and the impact on the environment is much higher. Oils of higher density may even sink, making them much more difficult to remove from the environment.


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