Different factors affect the ability to contain and clean up an oil spill. Issues concerning geographic isolation, weather conditions, body of water, and type of shoreline are all considered when creating a spill site scenario.
The remote location of an oil spill can present many logistical problems. Lodging, communication resources, and the ability to access an accident scene are all factors for consideration. Small communities may not have adequate facilities to shelter emergency response teams, nor adequate telephone lines and radio transmitters to handle the sudden increase in long distance correspondence. In some cases, cleanup equipment will have to be moved over great distances to reach a spill site. Large planes carrying this equipment may not be able to land at the nearest airstrip.
In addition, most spill response equipment and materials are greatly affected by such factors as shifting tides, water currents, wind, and environmental factors, including water salinity and temperature. (For example, biodegradation and dispersing agents both tend to work best in warm water environments, and moderate wave activity can enhance the effectiveness of gelling agents.) Standing water such as marshes or swamps with little water movement are likely to incur more severe impacts than flowing water because spilled oil tends to "pool" in the water and can remain there for long periods of time. In calm water conditions, the affected habitat may take years to restore. Flowing water is less impacted by oil spills than standing water because the currents provide a natural cleaning mechanism.
Surrounding habitats and type of shoreline must also be considered when determining the best form of response. Biological communities differ in their sensitivity to the effects of oil spills and the physical intrusion that may be associated with various cleanup methods. Spilled oil and cleanup operations can threaten different types of marine habitats, with different results.