The principal aim of dispersant application is to break up an oil slick into numerous small droplets which become rapidly diluted into the water column and are subsequently degraded by naturally occurring micro-organisms. Used appropriately, dispersants can be an effective response to an oil spill and can minimise or prevent damage to important sensitive resources.
In common with other response techniques, the use of dispersants must be considered carefully, to take into account oil characteristics, sea and weather conditions, environmental sensitivities and national regulations on dispersant use. In some cases, significant environmental and economic benefits can be achieved through the use of dispersants, particularly when other at-sea response techniques are limited by weather conditions or the availability of resources.
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.