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How do we clean up after Oil Spills?

Posted on May 03, 2010 by bp complaints

Historically oil spills have posed a variety of environmental challenges during the cleanup process, resulting in prolonged, expensive campaigns to undo their effects.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill is perhaps the most prominent example in recent history, which resulted in a multi-year, multi-billion dollar cleanup in the Alaskan Gulf which continues to draw the ire of environmentalists and policy makers. As a result of this oil spill, environmental engineers have improved cleanup methods to the point that modern cleanups are much more efficient, while preventative measures increasingly ensure that large oil spills are unlikely to occur in the future. While there is still a risk of spills in transporting crude oil via tankers, modern cleanup methods are much more effective than previous generation methods.

One of the most common ways of cleaning an oil spill is to contain and collect the surface oil using advanced skimming technology. Early in the cycle of an oil spill, the oil will float near the surface of the water, which can then be contained using a variety of cordoning methods. Modern skimming technology helps remove oil in calm waters, although it remains a challenge to collect spills in moving or deep water spots.

In these cases of difficult containment, biologists have opted to use methods to improve the biodegradation of the oil to limit the effects of the oil that cannot be strictly contained. By breaking up the oil, the harm on the oceanic environment is limited; although scientists do point out that it still has harmful effects. In many cases, scientists break down the compounds (since oil is organic) by adding certain acids and compounds. The ideal result of the process is that the oil becomes a type of fertilizer which is more soluble and less harmful than direct oil products.

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