Oil spills are dangerous because they harm the marine ecosystem and needlessly endanger the survival of marine life.
Oil exploration from oceanic resources has become necessary, and since oil spills can happen unintentionally, it’s crucial to use a variety of oil spill cleanup techniques.
One of the pollutants that are most prevalent in the seas is oil. Approximately 3 million metric tons of oil pollute the seas each year. However, the severity and scope of damage caused by different types of oil spills range.
Variations in the sort of oil, the spill’s location, and the local weather are to blame for this influencing the solution for oil spills. Additionally, numerous chemical, physical, and biological processes control how spilled oil spreads and behaves in the ocean.
Nevertheless, despite these, oil spills are a significant concern because they can seriously harm the ecosystem. The effects are felt not only near the spill but also spread out over vast areas, having a detrimental effect on shorelines and terrestrial animals thousands of meters away.
When oil leaks or spills, it floats on the water’s top because oil has a lower density than water. (saltwater or freshwater). Because of this, cleaning up an oil leak is much simpler.
If oil were denser than water and instead created a layer along the bottom of the seas, it would be challenging to clean up a spill. There have been numerous significant oil leaks in recent years, including those from the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the Prestige in 2002, and the Deepwater Horizon in 2010.
As long as ships transport the majority of petroleum products around the globe and as long as oil exploration from oceanic resources is steadily increasing, oil spills will remain a serious issue and a source of pollution.
Nevertheless, since most oil spills are unintentional, it is crucial to use a variety of cleanup techniques to reduce the threat they may pose to the marine environment.
Table of Contents
11 Solution for Oil Spills on both Land and Water
Oil leaks can be cleaned up using various techniques. Here are a few of the significant and frequently employed techniques:
- Using Oil Booms
- Using Skimmers
- Using Sorbents
- In-situ Burning
- Using Dispersants
- Hot Water and High-Pressure Washing
- Using Manual Labour
- Berms / Trenches
- Oil Chemically Stabilized by Elastomizers
- Natural Recovery
1. Using Oil Booms
Oil booms are a simple and well-liked technique for containing oil leaks. Containment booms are pieces of equipment that function like a fence to stop the oil from spreading or drifting away. Booms consist of three pieces and float on the water’s surface.
A “skirt” is positioned below the surface to prevent the oil from being squeezed under the booms and fleeing. A “freeboard” is the portion that rises above the water’s surface, containing it and preventing it from splashing over the top.
A type of chain or wire that joins the components to reinforce and stabilize the boom. The boom is positioned in a circle around the oil spill until it is encircled and contained.
This approach works best when the oil is in one spot. It works as long as the spill can be reached shortly after it occurs; otherwise, the manageable area of the spill grows too big. It cannot be used effectively when there are large water waves, strong winds, or changing tides.
2. Using Skimmers
Skimmers or oil scoops can be mounted on vessels to remove the contaminants from the water’s surface after the oil has been contained by the use of oil booms. Skimmers are devices created specifically to gather up oil from the water’s surface. To be gathered and processed for reuse, they are used to physically separate the oil from the water.
Skimmers can successfully recover the majority of the spilled oil, making the method profitable. Debris presents a significant barrier to this method because skimmers are readily clogged.
3. Using Sorbents
Materials known as sorbents can either absorb liquids by drawing them into their pores or adsorbing them to their surface. (forming a layer on the surface). Both of these features significantly simplify the cleanup process. Hay, peat moss, straw, or vermiculite are materials that are frequently used as oil sorbents.
Since the oil can be recovered, waste and additional emissions are reduced. The sorbent materials need to be successfully recovered after absorption. This is a challenging job that could get worse if you put it off.
As sorbents absorb substances, they grow heavier (3 to 15 times their original weight), which makes them more likely to descend, makes them challenging to recover, and endangers aquatic life on the ocean floor. They work best for managing minor spills or lingering traces of bigger spills.
4. In-situ Burning
By using this technique, the oil that is slick on the surface is lit and burned off. Compared to most other techniques, in-situ burning of oil can successfully remove up to 98% of an oil spill.
The minimum concentration (thickness) of the slick on the water surface for any discernible efficacy of in-situ burning is 3mm, according to Obi et al. (2008). This is because it would be difficult, if not virtually impossible, to ignite a thin layer.
The ecosystem and marine life may suffer severe harm as a result of the burning’s toxic fumes. The method is effective on recent spills before the oil spreads to a broader area and thins out.
Burning can swiftly and efficiently remove significant amounts of oil, but it also destroys plant life and produces residue that could harm the ecology. Burns on open water must be contained with special fire-resistant booms since oil can spread quickly in water.
Berms or trenches perform a similar containment role to fire-resistant booms when in-situ burning is being done on land. In certain instances, the area around the contained spill is flooded to raise the burning oil off the ground.
5. Using Dispersants
Accelerating oil’s disintegration is the only option available when spilled oil cannot be contained with booms. Chemicals called dispersal agents, like Corexit 9500, are sprayed onto oil spills by airplanes and boats to speed up the oil’s natural breakdown.
They expand each molecule’s surface area, enabling the oil and water to chemically bind. This makes the slick less likely to cross the water’s surface and makes it simpler for microorganisms to break it down.
It works well for accidents that cover a lot of space. Tarballs may be produced when dispersants are used. Sand and other debris in the water are also mixed with the oil as it mixes with the water. This causes huge tarballs to form on the water’s surface, which frequently drifts toward the shore.
Corals and seagrass are two examples of marine creatures that can be harmed by the toxicity of dispersants.
6. Hot Water and High-Pressure Washing
This process is typically used when booms and skimmers and other mechanical removal techniques cannot reach the oil. It is used to remove weathered and trapped oil from places that are typically out of reach for equipment.
Water is heated in water tanks to a temperature of about 170°C before being manually sprayed with high-pressure wands or nozzles. As a result, the oil is flushed to the water’s top where it can be removed using skimmers or sorbents.
To stop any further contamination, the released oil must be collected promptly and completely. There is a good possibility that organisms that fall in the direct spray zone will harm the hot water.
7. Using Manual Labour
The technique uses hand tools and manual labor to remove the contaminants, as the name would imply. It entails cleaning up the surface oil and oily debris with manual tools like hands, rakes, shovels, etc. before putting them in designated receptacles to be removed from the shoreline.
Mechanized equipment may occasionally be used to reach areas that are inaccessible or to provide any extra assistance.
Only slippery shorelines can be cleaned using this technique. Since unskilled workers with little instruction can be used in the process, it is more economically viable.
This procedure takes a long time and requires a lot of labor. Heavy equipment use should be avoided as much as possible because it can harm shorelines.
The term “bioremediation” describes the process of removing any harmful or toxic compounds using particular microorganisms.
For instance, a variety of microbes, fungi, archaea, and algae break down petroleum products into simpler and non-toxic molecules through metabolization. (mostly fatty acids and carbon dioxide). Reagents and fertilizers may occasionally be added to the region.
This phosphorus- and nitrogen-based fertilizers offer the bacteria the necessary nutrients for rapid growth and multiplication. When an oil spill occurs in deep waters, this procedure is typically not used; instead, it is progressively put into place once the oil gets close to the shore.
It is a laborious process that could take years, so if an immediate response is needed, faster options like using booms and skimmers or sorbents may be used.
Equally likely is that the fertilizers will promote the development of undesirable algae, which deplete the oxygen supply and prevent sunlight from reaching the deeper water levels. This could have a detrimental effect on marine life and be counterproductive.
9. Berms / Trenches
Building berms or dikes in the oil flow’s course using local soil, sandbags, or other construction materials helps contain spills on land for recovery.
Making ensuring the berm prevents oil from backing up and seeping into the soil, where it may harm groundwater, is crucial. Shallow trenches can be built to collect oil for removal if the water table is high and the oil won’t permeate the soil.
10. Oil Chemically Stabilized by Elastomizers
The priority following an oil spill is to stop the oil from spreading and contaminating nearby regions. Although mechanical techniques, such as the use of oil booms, successfully contain the oil, they have some usage restrictions.
Oil spills have lately been contained by experts using substances like “Elastol,” which is essentially polyisobutylene (PIB) in a white powder form. The substance causes the oil on the water’s surface to gelatinize or solidify, stopping it from dispersing or evaporating. Additionally, the gelatin is simple to obtain, which further increases the process efficiency.
With average reaction times of 15 to 40 minutes, it is a quick action technique. While gelatin poses a threat of entangling or suffocating aquatic creatures, PIB is non-toxic and frequently found in foods.
11. Natural Recovery
Utilizing the whims of nature, such as the sun, breeze, weather, tides, or naturally occurring microbes, is the simplest way to deal with the oil leak cleanup operation. When the shoreline is too far away or difficult to reach or the environmental costs of cleaning up a spill could outweigh the advantages, it may be used.
The oil typically dissipates or disintegrates into less complex components as a result of the consistency of these elements. It is one of the most economical approaches. It requires continuous and careful monitoring because it is a time-consuming and unreliable process. This is distinct from “sitting still and doing nothing.”
The position of an oil spill is important when trying to clean it up. Since most oil spills occur at great distances from land, the environment is typically allowed to organically process them. But as they near the shores, we gradually begin to treat them.
There is a common pattern to the treatments: (All distances measured from the shoreline)
- 200 nautical miles and beyond – Unless the condition is extremely severe, no therapy is applied.
- Booms and skimmers may be used between 20 and 200 nautical miles.
- Dispersants are used between 20 and 10 nautical miles.
- Biological agents are used in areas that are very near to the shoreline.
These are merely guidelines that may need to be adjusted depending on the kind of oil that was spilled and the local temperature. Since no two oil spill instances are alike, each is assessed based on its merit.
After discussing possible responses to oil spills, it is important to understand that each oil leak is a major ecological catastrophe. Prevention is the most effective way to reduce the impacts of oil through extraction and contamination removal.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.