Oil spill response

A number of very large oil-spills which have devastated particular coastlines have provided incentives both to reduce the likelihood of further spills, through improvements in design of in pipelines, tankers and refineries, and to develop effective methods for dealing with spills. Many countries, and most oil companies have developed comprehensive oil-spill contingency plans to support rapid response to future spills. In addition, equipment has been developed and is kept on standby to mitigate the impacts of oil spills when they do occur. Three broad approaches are used:

The use of booms and skimmers to contain and remove oil pollution at the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska

Physical containment using booms or other physical devices to hold a spill within a limited area, or to protect a particular feature such as a river mouth or beach from oiling. Physical removal using skimmers or pumps to remove oil from the ocean surface, or even earth-moving equipment to remove oil from the shore. Chemical dispersal, where particular surfactants are sprayed onto the oil. These are attracted to the oil molecules but are also water soluble. They serve to break up the oil slick rapidly and to enable its incorporation into the water column. While early dispersants had some toxic effects these have been largely reduced. By rapidly incorporating the oil into the water column, however, they may increase the proportion of toxic elements which are taken into the ocean (rather than evaporated).

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