Tag Archives: Oil Pollution

BP Ordered to Use Less Toxic Chemicals in Oil Cleanup

By Bertha Coombs, CNBC Reporter.

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered BP to use a less toxic chemical dispersants to break up the oil spill from its broken undersea well in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP has been using a dispersant called Corexit to break up the oil slick into smaller particles since the leak, deploying more than 600,000 thousand gallons on the ocean surface. The manufacturer, Nalco recently boost its sales forecast as a result of the Gulf spill orders.

Nalco shares slumped 5.26% on news of the EPA’s directive, but the company says it remains committed to helping with the Gulf clean up.

“Our goal throughout the entire event is to help where we can, and provide whatever products we can.” says Nalco spokesperson John Schoen.

Smaller dispersant manufacturers like Joannie Doctor, president of GlobeMark Resources, welcomed the EPA’s decision. “It’s about time. It’s fair,” she says, but she wishes the EPA had moved sooner.

Doctor claims her JD-2000 dispersant is more than 10 times less toxic on shellfish and other marine life than Nalco’s Corexit. But while BP has been scrutinizing her product over the last few weeks, it had yet to place an order.

The EPA has given BP 24 hours to find alternative chemicals.

The company has reached out to the maker of an EPA-approved dispersant called Sea Brat 4, Alabaster Corp. a family-owned manufacturer in Pasadena, Texas. “They said there’s a possibility that we may have to to gear up production,” says Charles Sheffield, Alabaster’s CEO.

Sheffield says BP has yet to confirm a new order. The oil company ordered 100,000 gallons of Sea Brat weeks ago, but never took delivery. “It’s still sitting in my yard,” he says, “I have 200,000 gallons ready to go right now.”

Critics have charged that Nalco’s Corexit is over 10 times more toxic than over a dozen of the other EPA-approved dispersants listed on the agency’s website. Nalco defended the safety and effectiveness of its dispersants on its website today, noting that toxicity data collected so far does not show any significant affects on aquatic life from dispersants.

The EPA’s decision comes one week after it authorized BP to use dispersants at the source of the leak. The use of tens of the thousands of gallons of dispersant near the ocean floor in deepwater is unprecedented, and critics such as Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) say in this case it amounts to “an aggressive experiment” and the long-term environmental impact is unknown.

The EPA has also ordered BP to make public the data it has been collecting on the use of dispersants at the leak source, and to continue to monitor the impact at the source. The agency is now posting those results on its web site.

GlobeMark’s Joannie Doctor says the need for continued use of dispersants at the source may be no longer be as big a priority. “I think they’re getting that leak more and more under control.”

BP tells CNBC the company is now capturing oil at a rate of 5,000 barrels per day, up fivefold from Sunday, when it succeeded in connecting a riser insertion tube into the severed well. “The visible plume escaping from the riser pipe has noticeably declined, as the flow increases,” BP’s Scott Dean wrote in an e-mail.

The government’s most recent estimate had put the flow of oil at 5-thousand barrels a day, but a number of scientists have disputed that figure, some believing the flow to be much great. A live feed of the leak shows a steady flow of oil still spewing from the broken undersea pipe despite the ramped up pace of containment.

Rep. Ed Markey demanded the company allow access to its undersea transmission, and the stream is now posted on the House Energy and Commerce website. “This footage will aid analysis by independent scientists blocked by BP from coming to see the spill, ” says the Massachusetts congressman.

Original Article

Gulf oil spill: real disaster beneath the surface

By Mark Sappenfield, CSMonitor

From the first moments that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank last month, it has been apparent that the blooming Gulf oil spill has been an oil disaster unlike any other. But the full truth of that statement is perhaps only now beginning to become apparent.

The oil that can be seen from the surface is apparently just a fraction of the oil that has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, according to an assessment the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology. Significant amounts of oil are spreading at various levels throughout the water column, says the report, which was posted online a week ago but first published by The New York Times Saturday.

The research, combined with other emerging data, could fundamentally alter researchers’ understanding of the oil spill. It suggests that vastly more oil than previously reported could be spilling from the wellhead and the attached riser pipe that now lies crumpled on the seafloor like a kinked and leaking garden hose.

Moreover, it suggests that serious environmental degradation could take place in the open ocean, creating massive “dead zones” where no creature can live because of the lack of oxygen in the water. The spread of oil at all levels of the Gulf also could become a concern for shore communities in hurricanes, which stir up the water column as they come ashore.

Scientists looking at video of the leak, suggest that as many as 3.4 million gallons of oil could be leaking into the Gulf every day – 16 times more than the current 210,000-gallon-a-day estimate, according to the Times.

The depth of the problem.

The fact that the spill could possibly be so radically misunderstood nearly a month after it began speaks to the unique nature of this spill. In particular, it’s depth 5,000 feet below the ocean surface, makes it both unprecedented and difficult to study.

For experts, “most of their experience is with shallow-water spills that quickly bleed black goo onto beaches that are cleaned up relatively quickly,” says the Los Angeles Times.

That is clearly not what has happened in the Gulf, where shorelines have, so far, emerged relatively unscathed.

The nature of the oil in the Gulf oil spill could be relevant it is of a lighter grade than that in the Exxon Valdez spill, for example.

More relevant could be the dispersant that BP is applying to the oil at the source. BP officials have hailed the process as a success, noting diminishing oil at the surface. But the dispersant breaks the oil into smaller drops, which might instead be spreading throughout the water column, instead of rising to the surface.

It is not clear what this would mean environmentally, though past research indicates that oil can be trapped in the seabed for decades after oil on the surface is cleaned away.

Complicating projections.

It would, however, make predictions for the spill far more complex.

“We have no idea where the oil that isn’t reaching the surface is going,” James Cowan Jr., an oceanography professor at Louisiana State University, to the Los Angeles Times. “It could go everywhere.

The Gulf currents operate differently at different levels, making the exact location and spread of the oil at different depths hugely important to predictions of where it might end up. Indeed, the system so complex that in time, oil could be taken anywhere from the Mexican Coast to Florida’s Palm Beach, research suggests.

BP has so far rejected any efforts toward pinpointing the exact amount of oil entering the Gulf, saying that effort would detract from other containment efforts, such as the current effort to stopper one of the leaks with a siphon. But getting a more accurate sense of how much oil in leaking could be vital to trying to account for all of it, scientists say.

The New York Times

Original Article

Gulf oil spill: Setback for untested containment dome

By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

BP officials said Saturday afternoon that they have encountered a setback in deploying a 100-ton containment dome over the massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak, but were not ready to declare the effort a failure.

Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said that hydrate -crystals that look like slush- had formed at the top of the dome, clogging the opening that is supposed to funnel oil up to a waiting ship.

The four-story metal structure was moved aside and is resting nearby on the seafloor, 5,000 feet beneath the surface, while engineers attempt to figure out a solution.

Suttles expects it will take several days to try and remedy the problem. Over the past day officials have been careful not to raise expectations about this containment strategy, which has never before been attempted at such ocean depths.

Original Article

Gulf Coast Flight / PSDS Coverage

Gulf Oil Spill

Andy Coburn, PSDS Associate Director and Adam Griffith, PSDS Research Scientist completed an aerial reconnaissance assessment of impacts associated with the Deepwater Horizon Incident.

We took off from Pensacola, FL at approximately 12:12 on Tuesday, May 4 and flew over Dauphin Island, the islands of the Gulf Island National Seashore, the Chandeleur Islands (LA) and the mainland Mississippi Gulf coast.

Although we did not observe oil on any beaches, marshes or islands, we did fly over the northern edge of the slick at N29 50.639 W89 06.633, or about 17 miles due west of the Chandeleur Islands. We also observed numerous locations where booms have been deployed, including a metal barricade along the backside of Dauphin island filled with a biochemical agent intended to solidify any oil with which it comes in contact (see image at top of page).

Also on Dauphin Island, private contractors were building a massive sand berm along the Gulf-facing shore on the western half of the island that will eventually stretch for miles. Although the publicly-stated purpose of this berm is to prevent oil from flowing onto the island, one can not help but wonder if this is another attempt to get taxpayers to artificially stabilize the nation’s most hazardous barrier island.

View All Images

Gulf Oil Spill / PSDS Coverage

Preliminary imagery from The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines flight along the Gulf Coast today showing preparations for the oil spill in the Gulf. Some interesting things to note: Dauphin Island, Alabama was flooded again by the relatively small storms that passed by this week. The state of Alabama is spending a huge amount of money and effort to protect the west end of Dauphin Island from the oil spill, building Hesco walls on the north side and pushing up a berm on the south side. One has to wonder how this makes sense given that Dauphin Island is neither prime habitat nor is it particularly high value property. Also a bit irritating is the image of the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi with an oil boom already deployed protecting??? Some concrete!!!!! I have heard that booms will be in short supply for protecting even the most critical areas. Surely there is something more important to protect than a casino. The good news is that, for the most part, the spill has not hit the coast yet.

We’ll keep you posted and additional flights are scheduled. All images may be used at no cost with permission and full attribution. Thanks to Andy Coburn and Adam Griffith for their work. Stay tuned for more.

Governor Ends Support For California Oil Drilling

By Samantha Young, The Huffington Post

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday withdrew his support of a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast, citing the massive oil spill that resulted from a drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The announcement assures that no new drilling will take place off the state’s coastline in the foreseeable future because Schwarzenegger would have to include the drilling proposal in his May revision of the state budget.

Speaking at a news conference near Sacramento, the governor said television images of the oil spill in the Gulf have changed his mind about the safety of ocean-based oil platforms.

“You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” Schwarzenegger said.

The Republican governor had proposed expanding oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara County to help close the state’s $20 billion budget deficit. Democrats last year blocked a similar proposal, but Schwarzenegger renewed his support, saying it was a reliable way to increase revenue as the state grapples with an ongoing fiscal crisis.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger said his support had been based on numerous studies finding it was safe to drill. But now, “I see on TV, the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem,” the governor said.

A drilling deal struck in 2008 between some environmental groups and Plains Exploration & Production Co., known as PXP, was estimated to bring the state some $100 million a year. The Houston-based company was going to slant-drill up to 30 new shafts into state waters from an existing platform that is sitting in federal waters.

The governor’s budget had set aside the $100 million from anticipated oil revenues to keep state parks open in the next fiscal year.

Schwarzenegger said he would find another way to plug the state’s budget deficit.

“If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.”

Scott Winters, a spokesman for PXP, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks said it was unfair for the governor to compare the type of drilling proposed in the Tranquillon Ridge area off California’s coast to the drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They are two completely different types of drilling. In the Gulf they had to use floating platforms because of deep waters. T-ridge is only 1,000 feet deep and the platforms would be fixed,” Strickland said. “If we don’t drill oil here, then we have to import it from overseas, which also has a big risk of oil spills.”

California’s drilling plan still needed final approval from the three-member State Lands Commission. Schwarzenegger has one appointee and one ally on the commission, newly installed Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Schwarzenegger’s announcement Thursday means all three commissioners are likely to oppose any efforts to expand offshore drilling.

The California coast was not part of President Barack Obama’s announcement a month ago when he said he wanted to expand oil drilling off the Atlantic coast and in eastern portions of the Gulf. Including California would have been too difficult politically because of strong opposition within the state’s congressional delegation and with environmental groups in the state.

A 1969 blowout on a Union Oil Co. platform off Santa Barbara fouled miles of ocean and beaches and led to a moratorium on offshore drilling.

Currently, 27 platforms operate off the Central and Southern California coasts. They produced 13.3 million barrels of oil in 2009.

The PXP plan split environmental groups in California. Some conservation groups threw their support behind the plan in exchange for a promise that PXP’s operations would end in 2022.

Environmental Defense Center attorney Linda Krop, who represents the groups that signed the agreement with PXP, said PXP agreed to shut down existing oil production from three offshore platforms in nine years and a fourth platform in 14 years.

“We’re very mystified. We had a plan that would have eliminated the risk of an oil spill,” said Krop, who was taken aback by Schwarzenegger’s announcement.

But others worried the deal would open the door to expanded drilling along the entire California coastline.

“I don’t care when someone is converted to oppose offshore oil drilling, I’m just pleased when it happens,” Assemblyman Pedro Nava said after hearing about the governor’s decision. The Democrat from Santa Barbara has been a vocal opponent of the proposed oil drilling.

The project was rejected by the State Lands Commission in early 2009 with the help of former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat. Since then, Garamendi was elected to Congress and Maldonado, a Republican who as a state senator represented a long strip of the Central California coast, took his place.

Associated Press writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.

Original Article

State of emergency is declared as US oil slick nears the coast

Oil Spill

From The Times by Jacqui Goddard in the Gulf of Mexico, Tim Reid in Washington and Frank Pope, Oceans Correspondent

The massive oil spill pouring from a ruptured rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the coast of Louisiana, threatening an environmental catastrophe in the region.

The first fingers of oily sheen reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday evening local time, 24 hours ahead of previous estimates by the US Coast Guard

As the sun began to set over the fragile wetlands surrounding the Mississippi, the oil was slipping into the South Pass of the river and already lapping at the shoreline in long black lines.

Although US government agencies and BP set up 100,000 feet of booms to protect coastal areas from the slick, rough seas sent five foot waves of oily water over the top of the booms into the river.

The slick is on its way to becoming Americas’s worst environmental disaster in decades, endandering hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife in one of the world’s richest marine environments.

Even before the spill neared the coast, wildlife experts said a toxic mix of chemicals was poisoning the waters of endangered marine life and fisheries, including one of only two breeding grounds world-wide for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“It is of grave concern,” said David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

Fear turned to fury among local residents as BP, which has leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from owner and operator Transocean, stood accused of playing down the scale of disaster after as it emerged that five times more oil was surging into the Gulf from the seabed than had been calculated previously.

There is a growing sense among the fishermen and tourist guides dependent on the wetlands for their livelihood that the Government has once more failed them, just as it did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama was briefed on the disaster and ordered Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, and Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, down to the Gulf Coast today.

Mr Obama said: “While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident.”

The operation now involves 1,100 people and more than 70 vessels. Last night, the Governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, said he was terrified that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or BP.

“They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren’t proactive,’ said Mr Thomas. “As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms.”

US experts are now fearful that it could take weeks, or even months, to shut off the ruptured pipe — yesterday a third leak was discovered — meaning that within two months the spill would surpass the 11 million gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker in the notorious spillage off the Alaska coast in 1989, America’s previous worst oil disaster.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil’s impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume’s path.

The 100-mile by 45-mile slick also threatens the Alabama coast.

It also emerged yesterday that the oil rig did not have a remote-controlled shut-off switch used in other oil-producing nations, such as Norway and Brazil, which could have closed down the well after the explosion.

The device, known as an acoustic switch, is not required under US law, but the lack of one added to questions about BP’s operation of the Deepwater Horizon. It exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20. The cause of the blast, which killed 11 of the 111 workers on board and set the rig ablaze before it eventually sank, has yet to be determined.

Mr Suttles said that Deepwater Horizon was equipped with other safety devices that should have prevented this type of spill, in which the oil is coming out of fractures on a severed pipe connected to the wellhead, 5,000ft below the surface.

Dozens of vessels were trying to contain the spill, using a variety of methods. Crews triggered a series of controlled fires to burn off the thickest parts of the slick, while booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants were trying to stop the rest from reaching shore. Heavy seas, forecast to last into next week, are hampering the operation.

BP was due to start drilling a new “relief” well that would allow them to stop the flow from the seabed, although officials said that it would take at least two months to complete.

A separate effort was also under way to try to place a dome on the ruptured wellhead but that, too, could take weeks.

BP has also tried, unsuccessfully, to close the wellhead using submersible robots.

More than 400 species are threatened by the oil, including wading birds and sea otters. The Gulf’s abundant oyster and shrimping grounds are also in danger of severe damage.

Marine and coastal life from the smallest plankton to the resident sperm whales will all be affected, experts say. Valuable fisheries for oyster and menhaden fish are at risk, as is the breeding of endangered turtles and bluefin tuna.

If the slick spreads, the rare manatees of the Florida panhandle could be under threat.

Much depends on where the slick ends up and the success of the efforts to contain it.

If it is taken by the Gulf’s defining current, which is known as the Loop, the oil may also reach the Florida Keys and endanger the region’s coral and resident marine populations.

The type of oil leaking from the sea floor is complicating matters. It is called sweet crude, which contains heavy compounds, known as asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate, even on the warm Louisiana coast.

With light crude, both burning and chemical dispersants work well, but neither tactic is very effective against sweet crude, raising fears that nothing can be done to stop the oil reaching shore.

Oil spill: Gulf of Mexico burn is last-ditch effort to stop landfall

By Patrik Jonsson

The decision by the Coast Guard to set fire to parts of the Jamaica-sized Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreading toward the Gulf Coast is a sign of mounting desperation in efforts to prevent oil from the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig from reaching American shores.

Though burning crude oil has been done experimentally, most notably off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993, it’s a last resort, and indicates that dogged attempts to both contain the spill and stanch the 42,000 gallons of crude a day spilling out of a crumpled “riser” have largely failed.

On Wednesday, the slick crept to within 20 miles of Louisiana’s sensitive fish nurseries and bird rookeries. There’s now a “high probability” that oil could reach the Pass a Loutre wildlife management area Friday night, Breton Sound on Saturday, and the Chandeleur Islands on Sunday, according to the AP.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil rig explosion

“This is potentially a very serious issue…. We are under no illusion of the risk that’s involved here,” Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen said in Miami Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Few other options The Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up last Tuesday, killing 11 and injuring 17. Some 36 hours later the rig sank, and since then oil has continued to spew from the wellhead sitting 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in the Mississippi Canyon.

A joint task force of industry groups and federal agencies have stretched their capabilities to the point that it has few options other than to attempt the oil burn.

In the Newfoundland experiment, 13,000 gallons of crude were tightly corralled in a fireproof boom and set alight with a so-called Helitorch. The burn took about an hour, and the summary from researchers was that burning is a viable way of dealing with an oil spill in an emergency.

But in the current case, the Macondo wellhead could spill more than 4 million gallons of oil (the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons). Given the difficulty in containing the spill so far, the total volume of oil, and the relative infancy of emergency surface burns, however, the task force will have to start small. Its plans are to corral a 500-foot-long section of the oil spill with a fire-resistant boom, tow it to a remote area, then burn it, according to a statement.

If this works the task force will repeat the process in a series of controlled, one-hour burns, the statement added.

Charges coming?Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday they’ll investigate possible criminal or civil violations on the part of Swiss-based Transocean, the contract driller, and other related companies, as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The incident is adding political pressure to President Obama’s plan to expand deep water oil exploration along the US coast.

The fire and plume may not be visible from land, but the prospect of swaths of the Gulf burning for potentially weeks on end could raise more questions about the safety and viability of more offshore drilling.

“Maybe the biggest risk the offshore industry has had all along is the public relations risk, and the way this is unfolding it could be an incredible public relations disaster,” says Robert Bryce, author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.”

Original Article

Oil spills on the worlds beaches and in the worlds oceans

oil-on-sand-coastal-care
Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care

By Linda Pilkey-Jarvis

Beaches and river shorelines all over the world are at risk from oil spills. Spills are most likely to occur while oil is transported or transferred between oil tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, and distribution or storage facilities. Spills may also occur during natural disasters (such as hurricanes), or through deliberate acts by countries at war, sunken ships, vandals, or illegal dumpers.

Risk and Prevention

Oil spill risk is a function of consequence and probability. Spills from tankers for example may have a low probability of occurring due to efforts to prevent spills, but are high consequence events when they do occur because of the type of oil and huge volume that could be spilled. By contrast, spills from oil terminals may occur more frequently (high probability), but may be low consequence events because of the smaller volume being stored or transferred.

Oil spill risk changes over time. Today, tank ships are constructed with double hulls to reduce the risk, while they are built to carry larger and larger volumes of oil. In other words the beach disaster is less likely but if it occurs it will be larger. Eco-tourism takes vessels into formerly remote areas of the world, such as the Antarctic. Around the world our pipelines are aging yet are becoming a larger source for oil movement. In certain areas our oceans, especially in the South Pacific, sunken ships from past wars are beginning to lose their integrity and release oil. The intensity of storms around the world is changing and the threat to our offshore drilling facilities is increasing. An unknown amount of oil was released throughout Hurricane Ike in September of 2008 as it struck Galveston Island in the United States.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for our precious and valuable marine environments. Preventing all spills may not be an attainable goal but prevention can certainly reduce the frequency and severity of spills. Prevention activities include thorough training of people, proper equipment maintenance, adequate staffing and limiting work hours, internal and independent auditing of oil practices, company policies and cultures that focus on prevention.

Planning for Aggressive and Effective Response to Spills

Spills cannot entirely be prevented so the second line of defense is preparing for the possibility. This means developing an active “culture of preparedness” for continuous improvement and initiative rather than reaction. Preparedness perfects response and fights complacency.

Preparedness includes:

  • Requirements to report spills to government agencies.
  • Developing oil spill plans.
  • Pre-staging equipment and training professional response personnel.
  • Drills to test the plans and then uses lessons learned to strengthen the plans.
  • Computer modeling to understand trajectories of spoiled oil, fate & effect in the environment.

Involving beach communities in planning is important. Sometime tradeoffs have to be considered. The concept of balancing environmental risk and sensitivities against socio-economic factors (e.g. fisheries, tourism) in order to determine the most appropriate techniques and level of cleanliness (sometimes referred to as “net environmental benefit analysis”) is well known and widely accepted.

Type of Oil

One of the most significant factors in any spill is the type of oil spilled, especially its probable persistence on the beach and in the marine environment. Non-persistent oils include light refined products (e.g. gasoline) which are highly volatile materials with low viscosities. These oils tend to evaporate rapidly and because of the ease with which they disperse and dissipate naturally there is usually only a limited requirement for cleanup. Such oils may, however, pose a significant fire and explosion hazard as well as cause public health concerns if they occur close to crowded beaches or other places where people gather. They may also cause significant environmental impacts due to their high concentration of toxic components but, as these same components evaporate rapidly, any such effects will usually be highly localized.

At the other end of the spectrum of oil types are heavy crudes and heavy fuel oils. These oils are highly persistent when spilled due to their greater proportion of non-volatile components and high viscosity.

Biofuel Oils: Biofuel based oils are gaining in use and demand. Many non-petroleum oils have similar physical properties as petroleum based oil, their solubility in water is limited, they both create slicks on the surface of water, and they both form emulsions and sludge. In addition, non-petroleum oils tend to be persistent, remaining in the environment for long periods of time.

Fate and Effect of Spilled Oil

Oil floats on water and very heavy oil can sometimes sink making it hard to collect. Oil spreads out rapidly across the water surface to form a thin layer called l an oil slick. In its thinnest form, it is called a sheen (often seen as rainbow colored).

At the same time as it moves and fragments, it also undergoes physical and chemical changes, collectively termed weathering. Most of these weathering processes, such as evaporation, dispersion, dissolution and sedimentation, lead to the disappearance of oil from the sea surface. On the other hand, the formation of water-in-oil emulsions (“mousse”) and the accompanying increase in viscosity as the oil absorbs up to four times its own volume of water, promote the oil’s persistence. Oil can form emulsions or end up as tar balls and pats on shorelines or travel long distances at sea.

Large oil spills can be very harmful to birds and marine mammals, fish and shellfish and all sorts of natural, cultural and economic resources. However, even a smaller spill may prove much more harmful than a larger spill if it occurs at the wrong time or season and in a sensitive environment.

Response Techniques

People may use any of the following kinds of tools to clean up or minimize impacts from spilled oil:

  • Mechanical recovery using booms, which are floating barriers to oil (for example, a big boom may be placed around a tanker that is leaking oil, to collect the oil or around sensitive areas to deflect the oil).
  • On-water recovery using skimmers, which are used on boats to remove spilled oil from the water surface. Skimmers can also work from vacuum trucks, which can vacuum spilled oil off of beaches or the water surface.
  • Sorbents, which are natural or synthetic materials used to absorb oil.
  • Chemical dispersants and biological agents, which break down the oil into its chemical constituents but this may add pollutants to the sea floor.
  • In-situ burning, which is a method of burning freshly-spilled oil, usually while it’s floating on the water.
  • Washing oil off beaches with either high-pressure or low-pressure hoses. Or shovels and road equipment, which are sometimes used to pick up oil or move oiled beach sand and gravel down to where it can be cleaned by being tumbled around in the waves.
  • Deterrence or scare tactics to keep wildlife from the spill area and Wildlife Rehabilitation stations where oiled wildlife can be rescued and cleaned.
  • No response. Sometimes, people may decide not to response at all to a spill, because in some cases, responding isn’t helpful or even adds to the damage from the spill.

Determining How to Remove Oil from Beaches

There is a standardized survey technique called Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams (SCAT) used around the world. The basic concepts of a SCAT survey are:

  • a systematic assessment of all shorelines in the affected area,
  • a division of the coast into geographic units or “segments” and,
  • a set of standard terms and definitions and documentation.

Cleanup techniques depend on the type of beach, degree of exposure to waves and currents, and biological sensitivity. Learn more.

Things you can do to prevent future wars for oil:

  • Reduce energy use
  • Drive slower.
  • Accelerate slower
  • Buy local
  • Drink tap water, not water in oil based bottles
  • Bike and walk when possible
  • Carpool
  • Resist impulse buying
  • Take care of power equipment
  • Use manual tools when possible
  • Use energy efficient lighting
  • In the winter, wear a sweater around the house

Trash Pollution

Mumbai, India
View Pollution Gallery

Trash pollution and contamination of beaches and nearshore waters is a global problem. In the United States in 2006, water samples from 92 beaches in 19 different states exceeded public health standards for pollutants. Offshore sewer outfalls, faulty (or non-existent) septic systems, non-point source agricultural run-off and increased sedimentation from logging and agriculture are common problems. Recently, beach nourishment (pumping sand onto the beach) has become a major source of fine sediment pollution (southern Spain, southeast Florida), causing harm to many nearshore ecosystems, particularly hard grounds and reef. Discarded trash can become a component of nonpoint source pollution runoff. Plastics, metals and other types of trash often harm animals and plants. Plastics and metals degrade very slowly over time and can leach harmful chemicals into the environment. These materials can also contribute to the transmission of disease. In addition, trash simply degrades the beauty of an area.

Runoff is also a major problem. Urban areas with large numbers of automobiles, trucks, and large transportation systems are major sources of oil based pollution into soils and paved surfaces. Rain washes surface pollutants to streams where they eventually course towards the oceans. Degraded water quality affects coastal ecosystems.