What can be done to Clean up the 2010 Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The 2010 gulf oil spill has reminded everyone of one simple thing – when it comes to cleaning up a mess, sometimes the simplest solutions are the best solutions. As phenomenal as technology is, there are several experts in the field of environmental cleanup that insist that if the gulf oil spill is actually going to be cleaned up, there is no one method that will effectively do the job. Before you lose hope, they do believe the answer is using a combination of several known techniques at the same time.

Their reasoning for this is hardly dartboard mentality. The fact is that even though all of the oil comes from the same place, it is dispersing differently  in very subtle ways. Relying on one method to perform a cleanup may be easier, but a multi-pronged approach can potentially perform much better. For instance, they point out that there are some techniques which can be used at the edge of a spill far more effectively than the middle of the spill where there is more dense presence. By using the correct tool in the correct place, they believe the cleanup will go much faster than trying to force the entire cleanup into a “one size fits all” style of removal.

While some people listen to their ideas and think they are somewhat comical, these experts are deadly serious and actually do have documented successes using the techniques they are advocating be employed. The problem is that few of them have ever been used on such a large scale spill, but they feel the science behind the applications bears out that they will work.

The first thing everyone is screaming for is a proactive application of absorbents. Generally speaking, absorbents come into play after the bulk of a cleanup has been performed as a finishing touch of sorts. What several experts claim will work is to start deploying them now along the outer edges of the spill. Absorbents as their name implies absorb oil, but repel water which is why they are so effective for oceanic spills.

Absorbents are generally woven, compressed, or otherwise made into some form of a mat. Once they are deployed they absorb the oil, are removed, and then properly disposed of. If time was not a factor, a small portion of each mat could actually be salvaged and redeployed, but in a situation such as the current spill that is a poor use of time resources. Materials used in absorbent mats are human hair, corn cobs, wool, feathers, hay, straw, peat moss, pet hair, mushrooms, and sawdust.

At the heart of the spill, they advocate for running more skimmers. Skimmers are a float that as their name implies skim the surface to as much as a meter below the surface depending on how they are set. They work a back and forth pattern, best when overlapping previous paths, and harvest the oil so it can be collected into more durable containers and transported offsite. It is a very simple technology, but it is also very slow.

Dispersing agents can be applied to the spill, although not everyone is in agreement with this option as it employs the use of toxic chemical agents in nearly every application scenario. Some argue this is merely trading one evil for another because they can negatively impact wildlife. The greener option in the dispersing agent family is biologic agents. These are microorganisms and enzymes that are deployed to a spill which in laymen’s terms consume the oil.

Although it is not always a popular option, sometimes burning off a part of the spill is the only way to quickly remedy the situation. The environmental impact is always going to have some potential serious ramifications, and approval to create a controlled burn takes the approval of several oversight agencies. In regards to marine spills this is almost never considered a viable option, and is held off as a last ditch effort when the failure to do so would cause graver harm.

The underwater dome is a favorite of green advocates, but as has been seen it is a less than ideal solution for any spill that is of the size of the current gulf oil spill. It is slow to implement, very hit or miss, and even when it works as a containment device, the removal is still a long drawn out process.

The bottom line is marine oil spills are disastrous. Everyone has a theory as to what will or will not work and when even the experts cannot reach an agreement that is a sign there will always be plenty of second guessing. Perhaps the call for the use of several removal techniques employed in concert would work, or perhaps it would not. The problem is no matter what technique is used they all take time, and time is the enemy when combating an oil spill.