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Once oil is spilled at sea, it will naturally spread, fragment and disperse under the influence of wind, waves and currents. For spills in coastal waters, the oil will often drift towards the shore and become stranded due to the action of waves and tides. In order to contain the oil at the spill site, recover the oil floating on the sea and clean-up any oil that might become stranded on the shore, there are a variety of techniques that can be employed. The prevailing weather and sea conditions, the characteristics of the oiled shoreline and the nature of the oil can all combine to pose challenges to any clean-up operation.
Several options are available to respond to oil at sea and can be considered in three broad strategies; containment and recovery, in-situ burning and dispersant application. The selection of the most appropriate strategy will depend on many factors, including; the response resources available, the national and local regulations on oil spill response, the spill scenario and the physical and ecological characteristics of the area impacted by the spill.
Shoreline Clean-Up and Response
The majority of ship-source oil spills occur close to the coast and, as a result, many spills result in contamination of shorelines. Oil reaching stranding on the shore can cause significant environmental and economic impacts and may also largely determine the political and public perception of the scale of the incident, as well as the over costs.
When oil does reach the shoreline, considerable effort may be required to clean the affected areas. It is therefore essential that comprehensive and well-rehearsed arrangements for shoreline clean-up are included in contingency plans. The techniques available for shoreline clean-up are relatively straightforward and do not normally require specialised equipment. However, inappropriate techniques and poor organisation can aggravate the impacts caused by the oil itself.
Explore Documents on Response Techniques
As exploitation of undersea oil moves further offshore floating production and storage systems offer a cost-effective alternative to conventional fixed platforms and seabed pipelines. Floating systems come in a variety of designs but due to their versatility, FPSOs (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading units) are a particularly popular choice.
Whilst large oil spills arising from shipping accidents often make dramatic news, most oil spills are small and originate in or near ports. ITOPF oil spill statistics for tankers, for instance, reveal that 80% of all tanker spills are less than 7 tonnes and that 80% of these arise from operational accidents such as those that might occur during loading, discharging, and bunkering.
The concept of persistence in relation to oil spills probably originated after the Torrey Canyon incident in 1967. This is when discussions first arose regarding various new measures to protect the marine environment and to manage marine oil spills, particularly in relation to liability and compensation.
Over the years, ITOPF has regularly attended incidents in relatively remote locations with limited response capacities and/or limited contingency planning arrangements in place.
There is always a balance to be struck between the different sensitivities and priorities on a shoreline when trying to decide the degree of cleaning which should be carried out after an oil spill and the methods that should be used. Priorities need to be set depending on the use and environmental sensitivity of the shore in question. Often, there is no simple answer which will satisfy all parties.