Clean-up tools may help protect wetlands from Gulf of Mexico oil spill

May 20, 2010

With oil from the big Gulf of Mexico spill threatening fragile coastal wetlands, clean-up crews are about to discover whether a combination of old and new clean-up methods will help limit the environmental damage. That's the topic of an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Assistant Editor Michael Torrice notes that scientists and engineers are using three basic tools to try to clean up the spill, in which millions of gallons of oil escaped into the ocean from an oil rig following a pipe rupture. Those tools include mopping-up the oil with absorbent pads called "skimmers," burning the oil in a controlled fashion, and breaking-up the oil into smaller particles using chemicals called dispersants. Despite these efforts, massive amounts of oil remain.

But scientists are also investigating new clean-up methods. One involves applying dispersants under water to prevent the oil from rising to the surface and forming emulsions, reddish-brown clumps of an oil and water mixture that are extremely difficult to clean up. In recent tests of this approach, remotely operated underwater "robots" injected the dispersants directly into the leaking oil plume. When oil hits the shore, scientists might rely on a more standard method and spray the wetlands with fertilizers that can boost the growth of naturally-occurring, oil-chomping bacteria that are found in the area. Whether or not this multipronged clean-up approach will save the wetlands remains to be seen.

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

More information: "Cleaning up the Gulf Oil Spill", This story is available at pubs.acs.org/cen/science/88/8820sci3.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Expert: Caution required for Gulf oil spill clean-up

May 04, 2010

With millions of gallons crude oil being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the focus now is on shutting down the leak. However, in the cleanup efforts to come, "extreme caution" ...

The Physics of Oil Spill Cleanups

Nov 19, 2008

Oil spills are a major environmental problem because they often occur at sea and in remote, ecologically-sensitive areas where their impact on birds, sea mammals and subsurface life may last for years.

BP relaunches subsea dispersant operations

May 11, 2010

BP restarted Monday operations to stream dispersants directly into the main Gulf of Mexico oil leak despite fears the chemicals could themselves be harmful to the environment.

Recommended for you

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

21 hours ago

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

Dec 19, 2014

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

moebiex
not rated yet May 21, 2010
Hubris begets tragedy- I, and I am sure many others, offered new ideas to the oil spill cleanup industry years ago only to be basically dismissed because "they are pro's and - thank you very - have everything under control". 20 years on- and I expect some billlions in technology investment- and said evidence of control is to my mind still missing. Now- these underwater dispersants- "out of sight, out of mind" I'd guess but I worry about the impact of poisonous hydrocarbon concentrations on the meso and abyssal pelagic environment and communities and the implications for the carbon cycle, food webs and even the development of anoxic zones. Hopefully the industry will fund studies so we do not remain blind to such effects.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.