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The anatomy of an oil spill cleanup: What works and what doesn’t

By Green News on 04/30/2010 – 7:00 pm PDTLeave a Comment

Preston Kott of U.S. Environmental Services moves oil absorbent
boom into a warehouse at a pollution control staging area in Venice,
La., April 27, 2010. Staging areas are being set up along the Gulf coast
as the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to spread. U.S. Coast Guard
photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley. Photo and caption via: uscglantareapa’s

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig (majority-owned by BP) exploded
in the Gulf of Mexico last Tuesday night, the news has gone
from bad to worse.

First the rig
sank. Then the Coast Guard lit
it on fire. Next we found out that there was not just one leak but
two, and they were gushing the equivalent of not 1,000 barrels of oil
per day, but 5,000. All of which puts the Louisiana coast at serious

And as the oil spill lurched toward the Mississippi Delta
yesterday, containment efforts became a foremost concern: At stake are
the livelihoods of oyster farmers, shrimp harvesters, and anyone who
relies on the area’s large tourism industry, just to name a few, as well
as the fragile ecosystem of this area, including endangered bluefin tuna
who come to this area in springtime to spawn.

But just how do you do
damage control on this kind of thing?

Oil spill cleanup on the high seas
How quickly crews can react, how big a spill is (or, in the case of the
Gulf incident, an underground leak from an an exploration oil rig, as
opposed to a production rig or boat), and weather conditions all have a
lot to do with the type of remediation or containment that will be

Obviously, oil and water don’t mix, which means the oil spreads
out along the surface of the water, creating a sheen or slick.

According to How Stuff

If a crew can reach a spill within an hour or two, it may
choose containment and skimming to clean up the slick. Long, buoyant
booms which float on the water and a skirt that hangs below the water
contain the slick and keep the oil from spreading out. T­his makes it
easier to skim oil from the surface, using boats that suck or scoop the
oil from the water and into containment tanks.

Oil spills happen without any advance notice, and the first wave of
cleanup — all mechanical — begins within hours. Whatever equipment,
human resources, absorbent materials, and dispersing agents are
immediately accessible are what get used in scooping up what oil can be
taken. The pros do it

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