Oil Spill Clean-up Technologies

After having burned for more than a day, Deepwater Horizon sank on Apr. 22nd, 2010, and within 15 hours the explosion and fire on the pipeline of CNPC’s in Dalian, China was extinguished, while the oil spill clean-up will last much longer. Major oil spills, such as Deepwater Horizon, Dalian pipeline, and others, attract the attention of the public and the media. It is unnecessary to describe the importance of the oil to human being. In the future we can imagine, it is impossible that oil and gas could be replaced by other resources. So, at first we should avoid the oil spill by any means. And the second we should develop the oil spill clean-up technologies.

The Basics of Oil Spill Cleanup by Merv Fingas reviewed the control and cleanup of oil spills. Also how to detect and measure the oil spill was mentioned. The author emphasized the oil spill in water, because of which spread most rapidly and cause the most visible environmental problems. The oil spill cleanup technologies includes containment on water, oil recovery on water, separation and disposal, spill-treating agent, in-situ burning,  and shoreline cleanup and restoration.

1. Containment on water

Containment booms are the basic and most frequently used piece of equipment for containing an oil spill on water. The objective of containment is to concentrate oil into thick layers to facilitate recovery.

Fig. 1 An Oil boom protects an Mississippi along the gulf coast.

2. Oil recovery on water

After the containment phase, it is possible to recover the oil in water. Usually the containment and recovery phases of an oil spill cleanup operation are often carried out at the same time. There are three major approaches to the physical recovery of oil from the water surface, namely skimmers, sorbents, and manual recovery.

Fig. 2 The Whale, the largest oil-skimming vessel in the world.

Fig. 3 Workers collect oil from the water outside a dock in Dalian, China

3. separation and disposal

Storage, separation, and disposal are all crucial parts of a cleanup operation.

After the oil is recovered from the water and before it is recycled or disposed, it must be temporarily stored in any kinds of containers, such as tanks, barrels, barges, even bags.

Fig. 4 Workers carry a container filled with oil collected at an oil spill site in Dalian, China

Pumps play an important role in oil spill recovery. They are an integral part of most skimmers and are also used to transfer oil from skimmers to storage tanks. Pumps used for recovered oil differ from water pumps in that they must be capable of pumping very viscous oils and dealing with water, air, and debris. The three basic types of pumps used for pumping oil recovered from spills are centrifugal pumpsvacuum systems, and positive displacement pumps.

The oil must be separated from the recovery mixture for disposal, recycling, or direct reuse by a refinery based on the solubility and gravity difference between water, oil and debris.

Fig. 5 One promising device is an oil-water separator backed by the actor Kevin Costner, right.

Disposing of the recovered oil and oiled debris is one of the most difficult aspects of an oil spill cleanup operation. The destiny of the recovered oil and oiled debris is directly reuse, road cover, incineration (burned), and landfill.

4. spill-treating agents

The spill-treating agents include dispersant, surface-washing agents, emulsion breaker and inhibitor, recovery enhancer, solidifier, sinking agent, and  biodegradation agent.

Dispersants are commonly used in oil spill cleaning, which could promote the formation of small droplets of oil that “disperse” throughout the top layer of the water column. Two major issues associated with the use of dispersants — their effectiveness and the toxicity of the resulting oil dispersion in the water column — have generated controversy in the last 30 years. The dispersants BP used also arose an argument among the public and the media. Some even thought the oil rain in New Orleans occurred due to the use of dispersant. In addition to chemical dispersants, 40 large oil skimmers have dumped more than 23 tons of Chinese-grown, oil eating bacteria into the Yellow Sea to solve the environmental pollution problems since July 20.

5. in-situ burning

In-situ burning is an augmental method to other oil spill cleanup technology. It could remove large amounts of oil over an extensive area in less time than other techniques. But there is a lower limit of the thickness of oil film. The environmental issue of in-situ burning should not be ignored.

Fig. 6 Vessels pull an oil boom during a controlled burn in the Gulf of Mexico.

6. shoreline cleanup and restoration.

Sometimes the oil spill on water reaches the shoreline because of the waves, winds or other reasons. It is more difficult and time-consuming to clean up shoreline areas than it is to carry out containment and recovery operations at sea. Physically removing oil from some types of shoreline can also result in more ecological and physical damage than if oil removal is left to natural processes.The decision to initiate cleanup and restoration activities on oil-contaminated shorelines is based on careful evaluation of socio-economic, aesthetic, and ecological factors.

The oil spill has damaged the seafood industry, and tourism in Gulf of Mexico and in Dalian area. Therefore, it is a must that clean the beaches there.

Fig. 7 Cherrington Beach Cleaner helped the workers in Grand Isle, LA scooping oiled sand

Fig. 8 Sand Washing Unit in Grand Isle, LA

Fig. 9 A worker cleans up oil stains on a beach near the oil spill site in Dalian,china


Oil spills have many adverse effects on the environment. Primarily, we should avoid oil spill by any means. If that happened, follow the procedures and apply the technologies correctly to minimize the environment damage, which requires a clear mind about oil spill cleanup technologies.


1. The Basics of Oil Spill Cleanup, 2ndEd.

2. 5 Wild Technologies Being Used Now to Clean Up the BP Oil Spill.

3. The State of Oil Spill Cleaning Technology.

4. Cleanup (BP).

5. Oil Spill Blast Blamed On Chemical Blunder.

6. Advances in Oil Spill Cleanup Lag Since Valdez.


5 Responses to Oil Spill Clean-up Technologies

  1. Oil and Water Separation is nothing new. Industries have been using oil water separators for years to control waste water. See this oil water separator animation for more information on how the flow process works. http://www.washbaysolutions.com/how-does-an-oil-water-separator-work.php

  2. the oil spill in mexico really affected the eco system around that area, it would take years to clean those mess ..

  3. oil spills can really mess up the environment, i hope we can find a very good solution to control oil spills “*`

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