Oil Spill FAQs

Oil Spill FAQs

What are the causes of an oil spill?

Oil can be spilled due to various environmental conditions and human actions. Earthquakes, hurricanes and storms as well as human error can all cause a release of oil into the environment. Obviously human errors can be avoided with proper training and use of best practices. However, inclement weather and natural disasters cannot be avoided. Proper planning and abiding by all applicable regulations will reduce the effect of an oil spill.

What are the procedures for cleaning up an oil spill?

When a spill occurs, a quick and effective response will greatly reduce the damage a spill can have on the environment and reduce the cost of the cleanup. Controlling the release is the first priority of any spill. Controlling the spill can be as simple as shutting an open valve or as complicated as digging up a leaking pipeline. After the spill has been controlled, the spill needs to be contained. The product spilled can be contained by using containment booms, earthen dams or absorbent material. The final step is to clean up the contaminate from the affected area. The spill can then be recovered by mechanical means such as skimmers, vacuum trucks or by use of absorbent materials in the form of booms, pads, and particulate.

What laws are applicable to oil spills?

After the Exxon Valdez accident, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) was signed into a law. OPA 90 improved the nation’s preparedness for oil spills by increasing the nation’s ability to prevent and respond to spills and increased penalties enforceable for companies not compliant with the Act. OPA 90 created the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund which provides funds in case of an oil spill. OPA 90 also provides requirements for contingency planning for industry.

For more information on OPA 90, please reference the EPA link below:http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/lawsregs/opaover.htm

What can be done to prevent oil spills?

Spill prevention is the best policy for preventing oil spill cleanup. An effective specific spill prevention, control, and countermeasures plan (SPCC) has as much to do with preventing a spill as having the correct response equipment on hand. SPCC plans are part of the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation which also covers plans for facility spill response. SPCC plans include but are not limited to a site overview with detailed inventories of all oil storage, evaluation of discharge potential, discharge prevention and practicability of secondary containment and diversionary structures. SPCC plans have an oil spill removal organization (OSRO) identified in case of an emergency.

What is an Oil Spill Removal Organization (OSRO)?

An OSRO is an Oil Spill Removal Organization which is regulated by the United States Coast Guard. OSROs are usually identified in SPCC plans as the emergency contact in the occurrence of a spill. The OSRO must meet strict guidelines and maintain spill response equipment as required by the United States Coast Guard. All OSROs contain oil spill containment and recovery equipment which are inspected and regulated by the United States Coast Guard. OSROs are response ready contractors that will supply companies and agencies with equipment necessary to cleanup spills quickly and effectively.

What are the main causes of oil spills?

Most oil spills happen due to bad weather (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc), acts of violence (war, vandals or pumping) and human mistakes such as; tankers and boats, pipeline breaks, barge crashes, oil well blow outs, above and below ground storage tanks, truck spills and oil platforms.

How long does it take the ocean to recover from an oil spill?

The answer to this question depends on how much oil was spilled, obviously the more that is spilled, the longer it will take to clean up. The type of oil spill that is spilled also effects the time it takes to recover. Light oil is much easier to clean up than heavy oil. Light oil in many cases will evaporate. Oil is much easier to clean up in the middle of the ocean where it is easier to get to as opposed to small lakes and wetlands. Weather also effects the time it takes for the ocean to recover. Examples are waves, cold weather, ice, etc.

What was the largest oil spill ever recorded?

The first oil spill to be cleaned up was the Torney Canyon on March 18, 1967 off the coast of England. The largest documented oil spill to date was the Ixtoc I, which was an oil well blowout, which happened in 1979in this hemisphere. If you are asking about the largest amount of oil ever lost in land or sea, it was during the Persian Gulf War.

What are the different methods of cleaning up an oil spill?

Spilled oil can be removed off the surface of the water in a variety of ways. It can be skimmed off the surface with skimmers; it can be burned, absorbed with sorbent pads, dispersed with chemicals or corralled with booms. The most common methods are: containment recovery, absorption (absorbents), dispersion, burning, bioremediation and pressure washing.

What is the government doing to try and prevent oil spills?

Organizations like the US Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency were organized to help prevent and clean up oil spills. It passes laws to prevent contamination and dumping. It makes companies fix old equipment like patching holes in boats. It sets aside money to train people on how to clean up an oil spill and to develop new equipment. It makes companies responsible for spill the oil pay for clean up.