There is no doubt that oil is a useful substance to mankind. It is used widely as a fuel, a lubricant and as a raw material in industry. However, when it gets into the wrong place at the wrong time it can cause a serious threat to the health and safety of humans, other creatures and the environment.
A lot of effort goes into making sure that oil contamination does not occur in the first place and to clearing it away properly if it does.
Oil contamination on land
According to UK government advice, in order to prevent groundwater contamination, underground storage tanks should be decommissioned immediately by closing and removing them or making them safe in-situ.
Tank decommissioning is a specialist task that should only ever be carried out by qualified and experienced operatives such as http://www.ashremediation.co.uk/tank-decommissioning/.
This is necessary to prevent the delicate ecosystems around the tank from being damaged.
Clearing up oil contamination at sea
Speed is of the essence when dealing with oil spills because they can cause so much damage to the environment. The agency that assumes responsibility for the clean-up will depend on where the spill is located. It is often a combination of a coast guard agency and an environmental protection agency.
Oil does not mix with water but floats on the surface of any body of water that gets contaminated. The thickness of the oil layer is around one millimetre. A rapid assessment of the location, the weather conditions and waves and currents as well as the proximity of any other hazards has to be made. This will help the experts to decide upon the most appropriate course of action.
Several possible methods could be employed. Firstly, the spill may be contained using giant inflatable booms. The booms are around a metre high and have skirts that hang under the water. Then the oil may be skimmed off the surface using skimmers which scoop the oil into large tanks that are taken onto land. It is difficult to use both booms and skimmers when the waves are large and the wind is strong.
Dispersants are chemicals which break down oil so that it forms small droplets. These mix easier with the water. However, this can put marine organisms at risk, and it can enter the food chain.