Environmentally Safe Ways to Clean Up Oil Spills

By Carroll Colette J. Yorgey

There are environmentally safe ways to clean up oil spills. Today it is vitally important to not endanger coral reefs, fishing communities, sea birds, and other marine life that depend on ocean water for their survival.  Also, when oil spills reach land, the oil destroys the ecology of habitats and contaminates aquifers and groundwater.

Although oil spills are dangerous to the environment, they are not as dangerous as the traditional methods used to clean up oil spills. Traditional methods include chemically dangerous dispersants or detergents, or bioremediation methods that are also harmful to the environment.

According to ecological studies of the Amoco Cadiz Spill (1978), the untreated coastal areas fully recovered within five years. The treated areas, on the other hand, have not recovered in over 30 years. Oil, since it is a biological product, breaks down naturally through natural microbes in the environment.

The Exxon Valdez Spill (1989) has still not fully been recovered from, due to a high quantity of nutrients used to speed up the degradation process of the oil contaminant, which upset the ecological balance, thus producing “severe environmental damage for decades to come.”

Since Valdez, scientists and environmentalists have been working on environmentally safe ways to clean up oil spills:

1) Peat moss mixtures

A company in Norway has developed a peat moss mixture that can be used in a variety of ways to clean up oil spills. These methods include mixing gravel and stone from the area with peat moss, three-meter-long peat moss sausages, and buckets of peat moss.

2) Improved skimmer

An improved skimmer has been developed which features a grooved rather than smooth surface, and can collect more oil than the traditional skimmer.

3) Aerogel

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have come up with a light-weight sponge made of clay and plastic.

4) Frozen Smoke

Scientists in Arizona and New Jersey have developed a super light-weight hydrophobic silica aerogel that they call “frozen smoke.”

5) Oil skimming booms

Booms are made of a synthetic materials that are highly absorbent, such as the material used in diapers. They are usually about 10 to 20 feet long. They are filled with polypropylene and covered with an outer mesh.

6) Hair booms

To confront the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, people have been collecting hair for booms. But according to NOAA, hair booms become waterlogged and sink quickly, and are therefore not highly recommended.

7) Oil-water separation machine

The oil-water separation machine developed by Kevin Costner, long-time actor in such movies as Dances with Wolves and Waterworld, and his team of scientists including his scientist brother, is the newest environmentally safe method for cleaning up oil spills. He has worked on the project for 15 years and invested $20 million in the project. It is manufactured by Ocean Therapy Solutions.

BP, the company involved with the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, agreed to try Kevin Costner’s oil-water separation machine. The machines are carried to the spill area by barges. The largest machine is a V20 and can clean up to 200 gallons per minute. The oil-water separation machine is capable of separating 99% of crude oil from water.

Oil spills such as Valdez are painful reminders of how oil spills and oil spill clean-up methods can hurt the environment. It is hoped that the cleaners of the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill will transcend conventional clean-up methods and replace them with environmentally safe methods. Birds and turtles are dying due to continued conventional practices that involve burning baby turtles alive while burning up debris.

Copyright © 2018 Carroll Colette J. Yorgey. Edited and used with her permission.