Oil Spill Response Techniques
A number of advanced response mechanisms are available for controlling oil spills and minimizing their impacts on human health and the environment. The key to effectively combating spills is careful selection and proper use of the equipment and materials best suited to the type of oil and the conditions at the spill site. Most spill response equipment and materials are greatly affected by such factors as conditions at sea, water currents, and wind. Damage to spill-contaminated shorelines and dangers to other threatened areas can be reduced by timely and proper use of containment and recovery equipment.
Mechanical containment or recovery is the primary line of defense against oil spills in the United States. Containment and recovery equipment includes a variety of booms, barriers, and skimmers, as well as natural and synthetic sorbent materials. Mechanical containment is used to capture and store the spilled oil until it can be disposed of properly.
Chemical and biological methods can be used in conjunction with mechanical means for containing and cleaning up oil spills. Dispersing agents and gelling agents are most useful in helping to keep oil from reaching shorelines and other sensitive habitats. Biological agents have the potential to assist recovery in sensitive areas such as shorelines, marshes, and wetlands. research into these technologies continues to improve oil spill cleanup. Subpart J of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) establishes the process for authorizing the use of dispersants and other chemical response agents, which includes the NCP Product Schedule, which is the federal government's listing of chemical countermeasures that are available for use during or after an oil spill response.
Physical methods are used to clean up shorelines. Natural processes such as evaporation, oxidation, and biodegradation can start the cleanup process, but are generally too slow to provide adequate environmental recovery. Physical methods, such as wiping with sorbent materials, pressure washing, and raking and bulldozing can be used to assist these natural processes.
Scare tactics are used to protect birds and animals by keeping them away from oil spill areas. Devices such as propane scare-cans, floating dummies, and helium-filled balloons are often used, particularly to keep away birds.