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.
However 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 were fully recovered within five years. The treated areas 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) is still not fully recovered, due to a high quantity of nutrients used to speed up the degradation process of the oil contaminant which upset the ecological balance 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 such as gravel and stone from the area mixed with peat moss; three meter long peat moss sausages; and buckets of peat moss.
2) Improved skimmer
An improved skimmer has been developed with a grooved rather than smooth surface which can collect more oil than the traditional skimmer.
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 material that is highly absorbent such as diaper material. They are usually about 10 to 20 feet long. They are filled with polypropylene and covered with an outer mesh.
6) Hair booms
With 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, has finally agreed to try Kevin Costner’s oil-water separation machine. The machines will be 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 over 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 Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill will transcend traditional clean-up methods with environmentally safe methods, however birds and turtles are dying due to continued traditional practices such as burning baby turtles alive while burning up debris.