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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
DISCOBIOL: Assessment of the impact of dispersant use for oil spill response in coastal or estuarine areas (2014)
The DISCOBIOL research program aims to provide practical recommendations on dispersant use in coastal and estuarine areas by acquiring relevant (in terms of likely dispersed oil concentrations) and robust experimental information on the impact of mechanically and chemically dispersed oil on living resources.
The subject of oil spill dispersants has attracted greater attention in recent years as more countries have sought to develop legislation permitting their use. Claims about the improved effectiveness of 'new generation' dispersants coupled with concern about possible toxic effects have created a confused and emotionally charged arena in which to debate this topic.
This paper provides an overview of the use and limitations of dispersants on floating oil, as one of a range of options available for response to ship-source marine oil spills.