Examining Oil Dispersants And How They Work Biology Essay

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Deepwater offshore drilling is one way for the US to limit dependency on foreign oil. It helps the country to have lower oil prices and grow its economy. However there are many risks involved with offshore drilling. In particular, the risk of oil spill that can result from offshore drilling is hazardous and almost impossible to clean.

BP oil spill that occurred on April 20,2010 was one of the biggest oil spill in US history. The leakage was finally contained almost three months after. However, million gallons of oil poured into the ocean causing tremendous damage to the environment. Among others, the BP heavily relied on the use of dispersant to clean up the oil spillage.

Dispersants are generally less toxic than the oils they breakdown. It is a detergent-like substance that breaks down oil into smaller molecules that makes the oil easier to be digested by ocean microorganism. The surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and surface-dwelling organism. However, the oil is broken down into smaller droplets that can go beneath the surface, thereby increasing the exposure to marine life found deeper in the ocean. Some people are also worried that adding dispersant is causing more problem to the oceanic habitat. BP is pouring an unprecedented amount of dispersant to the ocean, and there is lack of studies on the effects of dispersant to the environment when it is being used in such a large scale.

On one hand, some people consider dispersants as the lesser of two evils. These people see that the dispersants kept oil from affecting the marine life in the surface, and it is keeping the oil from washing up to the shores. On the other hand, other people are not happy with the uncertainty of the dispersants' effect on the environment in the long-term. In this paper, we will discuss the possible short and long term implications to humans and the marine ecosystem due to the use of dispersants in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. We will show the different alternative and solutions that BP considered, and we will propose the best solution for the problem.

Thesis Statement

We know that dispersants are generally less toxic than the oils they breakdown and that the surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and surface-dwelling organism. However, the oil is broken down into smaller droplets that can go beneath the surface, thereby increasing the exposure to marine life found deeper in the ocean. In this paper, we will discuss the possible short and long term implications to humans and the marine ecosystem due to the use of dispersants in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and produce a definite argument either for or against this plan of action.


The US relies on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to supply 30% of its oil consumption. While the need for oil production is obvious, the issue of offshore drilling has long been controversial. On one hand, offshore drilling lowers domestic fuel prices and allows US to be less dependent on foreign countries' oil production. Offshore drilling also helps the US economy to grow as lower fuel price directly affects consumer goods' price. Some proponents of the subject even argue that offshore drilling and other man-made oil spills only account for six percent the amount of oil that seeps naturally into the ocean (Hoffman, 2010). Without offshore drilling, nature itself leaks more oil into the ocean, and offshore drilling can actually reduce the amount of crude oil released into the seas according to Hoffman.

On the other hand, the biggest negative impact of offshore drilling is the environmental hazards. Offshore drilling's mere presence disturbs the environment, but environmentalists are most concern about the risk of an oil spillage that can cause massive damage to the ocean and surrounding beaches. Cleaning up the ocean after an oil spills occur is very hard and the spilled oil can never be removed completely. The oil impacts the surface of the waters, marine life that inhabits the ocean, the ecosystem, the surrounding beaches, and the businesses that relies on the affected areas. Furthermore, the success rate of oil drilling is very low and unpredictable, especially in the deepwater horizon areas that are hard to reach and have higher risk for spillage.

Background Information

On April 20, 2010, a British Petroleum (BP) deepwater horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion killed 11 people and injured 17 others (Guardian Research, 2010). Furthermore, the blowout preventer that was intended to prevent oil spillage failed to activate, and crude oil was released to the ocean. This explosion and subsequent fire marks the beginning of the biggest oil spill in the US for the past 100 years. The cause of the explosion is unknown. However, recent presidential investigating commission did not find any evidence that suggested that BP officials had cut corners to save money.

Crude oil poured into the ocean for a total of 85 days. The source of the leak was successfully capped on July 15, 2010 (Associated Press, 2010). However, the oil spilled already amounted to 184 million gallons and affecting around 2,500 to 68,000 square miles. The effects of the spill continues even after the leak was capped. The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats as slick black oil tarnish the ocean's surface, plumes of oil gathers at the bottom of the ocean, sticky tar balls washes up the shores, and water's oxygen content is depleted, causing threats to any sea life. Furthermore, the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries suffers. BP is made accountable for cleaning up the oil and reimbursing the affected business and individuals.

Faced with pressure from the environmentalists and government to control the damages caused by the oil spill, BP's efforts to clean up the oil spill include setting the crude oil on fire, setting up sinker ships, putting up barriers, and use dispersants to break down the oil particles. Due to the size of the oil spill, BP's relies on dispersant to clean-up the oil. In an unprecedented move, BP injects a large amount of dispersant into the source of the oil leakage.

Oil Dispersant Definition

Oil dispersant is defined as "chemical that breaks up oil spilled on water into minute particles which can be dispersed by the wave action and/or wind action over a wider area, thus avoiding severe damage to the coastal areas, marine life, and watercraft" (Business Dictionary). The primary ingredients in oil dispersant is detergents, designed to bond with the oil molecules and separate them from water molecules, thus breaking up the oil. Dispersants accelerate the process of natural dispersion. When used appropriately, can be an effective way to clean up oil spills.

How Oil Dispersants Work

Oil dispersant works much like a dishwashing soap. It breaks apart oil and water, making it easier to dilute. In the case of an oil spill, the smaller oil droplets that was dispersed will mix with the seawater, and then digested by naturally occurring micro-organism. Below is an image from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited showing how the dispersants work:

A: Dispersant droplets containing surfactants are sprayed onto the oil.

B: The solvent carries the surfactant into the oil.

C: The surfactant molecules migrate to the oil/water interface and reduce surface tension, allowing

D: small oil droplets to break away from the slick.

E: The droplets disperse by turbulent mixing, leaving only sheen on the water surface

Figure : How Oil Dispersant Works (Source: The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation)

The application of dispersants must be considered carefully based on the characteristics of the oil spilled, sea and weather conditions, as well as surrounding environmental sensitivities. Dispersants may be sprayed onto oil slicks to accelerate the process of natural dispersion. In the BP oil spill, dispersants were injected into the source of the leak, minimizing the amount of oil rises to the surface of the ocean.

The Effects of oil dispersant

Dispersant breaks down oil into smaller oil droplets that are more easily diluted and biodegraded by micro-organism in the water. It also prevent oil emulsions to happen and minimize the exposure of oil to the wildlife on the surface (such as birds). However, adding dispersants is also a type of pollutant that may be harmful to the marine life. Lab tests suggest that dispersants are relatively safe to the environment, but in reality, we have never experienced the effect of dispersant in such a large quantity.

From what can currently be observed, the use of dispersants caused the oil to sink into the bottom of the ocean and gather into massive plumes of black plumes of oil. This causes sensitive deep water organism and planktons to be exposed to the oil. Furthermore, scientists recently proved that traces of oil from the BP spill is found in fishes that will eventually end up at our table. Also, miles of dead and dying corals are found near the deep-sea oil leakage that are covered by brown substance. The long term effects of the dispersant is still unknown.

Strategic Problems

Environmental Issues

The BP oil spill caused extensive damage to the environment. Wildlife inhabitants that lives on and near the surface of the ocean such as birds, walruses, and fishes are coated by the oil spill and many of them died. As of November 2, 2010, the Us Fish and Wildlife Serfice has found 6,104 dead birds, 609 dead sea turtles, and 100 dead mammals, including dolphins around the spill zone (Restore The Gulf, 2010)

Furthermore, corals and marine life that lives at the bottom of the ocean also dies because of the oil and the toxic dispersant. Plumes of oil that gather at the bottom of the ocean are ingested by microorganism that will travel up the food chain and ultimately eaten by the fish that humans might consume. The food chain is therefore contaminated, and may cause some wildlife and marine life population to change or disappear (Embach, 2007).

Dr. Remata Reddy, a professor at Jackson State University says that the oil spill, combined with dispersant, may cause toxic acid rain upon all of Eastern North American (WAPT, 2010). Dr Reddy states that the toxic rain could be fatal, especially in the hurricane season. Oil that evaporates as the ocean surface heats up can cause toxic fumes and can be very dangerous if inhaled by human. Furthermore, the oil and tar balls that washes up to the shore may be unable to sustain the normal coastal wildlife. There are many uncertainty of the effects of oil spill and dispersants in the long term. Many long-term effects may remain hidden as the oil dispersants cause oil to sink into the bottom of the ocean. The plumes of oil might stay at the bottom of the ocean for decades and continue to be toxic to the environment.

Crisis Management

Many people criticized the way BP attempt to manage the oil spill crisis. BP did not seem to have a good plan in place to handle the oil leak. The blowout preventer that was supposed to prevent oil spillage failed to activate, and many wonders if BP had put in enough safety measures that could have prevented the explosion. Although BP accepted the responsibility, they tried to cover up and minimize the problem. They claimed that the spill be of minimal impact. They even released inaccurate statements about the extent of the damage and Photoshopped some images from the command control. Furthermore, its CEO, Tony Hayward made insensitive comments such as "I want my life back" and attended a yachting event during the crisis. These comments angers the public and added negative publicity to the crisis. (Dewan, 2010)

Ethical Issue

In order to minimize the negative publicity, BP tried very hard to limit access to the oil spill. BP refused the requests of scientists to set up instruments on the ocean floor that measures the rate of the leak more accurately. Other scientists and environmentalists' initiative to help was also declined (Dewan, 2010). BP's protective nature and lack of transparency is unethical because they are covering their mistake at the cost of cleaning the environment faster.

BP's dominant immediate solution was to spray large volumes of dispersant into the ocean, and inject unprecedented amount of dispersant at the source of the leakage. This helps prevent the oil from emerging onto the surface. However, it is uncertain whether BP did this with the best intention. Keeping the oil from reaching the surface makes BP look good to the media because they cannot see the oil anymore. However, the dispersed oil gather at the bottom of the ocean and causing all kinds of environmental problem. There has not been a study done on the long-term effect of the dispersant used in such large quantity before, and it is unethical for BP to use dispersant just to make the problem go away.

Another ethical issue arose when BP chose the dispersant Corexit as its primary method of cleaning up the oil spill. Corexit is produced by Nalco Holdings and it is considered more toxic to marine life compared to the other seven dispersants that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many people are speculating that BP chose Corexit because Nalco has a former BP executive on its board. As soon as BP announced that they are going to use Corexit, Nalco's stock went up by 18% (Taylor, 2010).

Illegal Dumping Of Chemicals

BP Press Officer Daren Beaudo stated that BP stopped using dispersants on July 19. However, many eye witnesses are claiming that BP is still spraying the dispersants, and coast guards are not doing anything about it (Blumenfield, 2010). Furthermore, the allowable limit set by EPA is 15,000 gallon per day. According to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command, more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants have been used both above and below the surface of the Gulf waters from April 26, 2010 to July 19, 2010.

EPA ordered BP to stop the use of dispersant and only spray dispersants on the surface as a last resort (EPA, 2010). Mathematically, this means that BP used 22,500 gallons of dispersant per day, which is well over the EPA limit. According to LA times, the Coast Guards are authorized to grant waivers to increase dispersant. In fact, all 74 exemption requests from BP to spray surface dispersants were granted by the Coast Guard. These reports indicates that there is many cover up done by BP and possibly also the Coast Guard.

Short-Term And Long-Term Advantages of Oil Dispersant

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April, 2010, there has been a wealth of attempts to stop the leak. Dispersant is also used deep under water basing on its short-term and long-term advantages as an effort to stem the oil flow.

Preventing Oil From Reaching The Coast

First, dispersants can prevent oil from reaching the coast. After the oil spill, keeping the shoreline from being contaminated became the number one goal for BP and other environmental organizations. The shoreline and sensitive coastal habitats need to be protected from the long-term devastation if oil overwhelms the coastline. The use of dispersants at the time of oil spill best aligned with that intention. Dispersants are said to be generally less toxic than crude. Furthermore, dispersants biodegrade in weeks instead of years as oil does. So, they will decrease the risks to the shorelines and to organisms on the water's surface. The key purpose of using dispersants is to stop the oil from reaching the shore. When dispersants are sprayed, the hydrophobic portions of the surfactants encircle the oil. Their hydrophilic then contacts the water to form micelles. Dispersants will break the oil into smaller droplets that fall from the surface into the water column, where microbes degrade them or ocean currents push them farther out to sea. According to Snow (2010), "Water monitoring continues to indicate that dispersants have not been found in waters on or near the shoreline." In a response to the BP spill, EPA (2010) also stated the benefit of oil dispersants being used by BP as following:

Results to date indicate that subsea use of the dispersant is effective at reducing the amount of oil reaching the surface - and can do so with the use of less dispersant than is needed when the oil does reach the surface. This has been an important step to reduce the potential for damage from oil reaching fragile wetlands and coastal areas.

Marine Life Rebounding Faster

Second, using dispersants can help the marine life rebound faster. As a report by EPA stated, "Mixtures of crude oil and the dispersant chemicals used to break up oil slicks appear to be no more toxic to sensitive marine life than the oil itself." Using dispersants is advantageous because smaller globs of oil are easier to digest by micro-organisms. The oil will therefore disappear faster. On the surface, the marine life seem to return to normal quicker as the oil is broken down and possibly sink to the bottom of the ocean.

In "Our Real Gulf Disaster", Dolinar (2010) mentioned, "four months after the Deepwater Horizon spill-which President Obama called the "worst environmental disaster America has ever faced"-the oil is disappearing, and fisheries are returning to normal." Researchers from California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicate that marine life in the Gulf of Mexico may be rebounding faster than many had expected from the largest accidental offshore oil spill in history. In addition, new species of pancake batfishes, a kind of bottom-dwellers, have been identified recently in Gulf Oil Spill. "The discovery of this new species serves as a slight buffer against the news of fish dying or cloaked in oil have become regular features in the day's recap news of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill", posted in the Gulf Oil Spill Facts website. Even though the long term effect on the deep water marine life is still unknown, there is evidence showing that the marine life in the surface is rebounding faster.

Best Solution

Third, using dispersants is also considered the best immediate solution at the time. When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in April, a small oil leak began. That oil leak began growing; and if it did not stop, it would turn out into an environmental disaster. Therefore, dispersants are used as the best instantaneous method at that time to prevent the oil from reaching the coastline. The use of dispersants is an attempt to reduce the environmental damage of oil still spewing out of a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. Research shows that when used appropriately, dispersant is an effective way of response to an oil spill. The core rationale for using dispersants is that it will break oil into smaller droplet form. Smaller oil will be more degradable by bacteria. In addition, dispersed oil is less damaging to birds and marine mammals. Although dispersants are not actually proven to lessen the amount of oil, they reduce the potential for a surface slick to contaminate shoreline habitats and affect birds, marine mammals, or other organisms. "Up to this point, use of dispersants and the effects of dispersing oil into the water column has generally been less environmentally harmful than allowing the oil to migrate on the surface into the sensitive wetlands and near shore coastal habitats", said by Joana Tavares-Reager on The Actual Earth website.

In certain situations, dispersants may provide the only means of removing significant quantities of surface oil quickly, thereby minimizing or preventing damage to important sensitive resources. Their use is intended to reduce the damage caused by floating oil, for example to birds or before the oil may hit a sensitive shorelines. However, in common with all spill response options, the use of dispersants has limitations and its use should be carefully planned and controlled.

Short-Term And Long-Term Disadvantages Of Oil Dispersant

Dispersants are normally sprayed on the surface, but now, for the first time, the EPA has approved a test for underwater application in the case of BP oil spill. Therefore, the effects of dispersants using below the surface still remains uncertain. While the most important benefit of dispersants consists of reducing some of the on-shore environmental impact of an oil spill, there are a number of other potential environmental hazards.  

Oil Is Not Removed

First, the most controversial disadvantage of using dispersant is that the oil is not removed from the water. Dispersants are chemical mixture with unpleasant effects. Using them does not make the oil disappear, nor does it decrease the toxicity of the oil. Dispersants are compounds used to break down oil into smaller globs so that it sinks and biodegrades more quickly. Daniel Cressey suggests the idea why using dispersants is not effective in removing oil on the Nature News:

Dispersants work on the same principle as kitchen washing-up liquids. Both are made up mainly of surfactant molecules, which have heads that are attracted to water and tails that are repelled by water. The molecules embed themselves at interfaces between oil and water. This lowers surface tension at the interface - that is, the difficulty of disrupting molecules of oil and molecules of water from clinging to their own kind rather than mixing.

Dispersants merely break oil up into small particles, where it becomes less visible. Using dispersants simply splits the oil apart and spreads it out. Oil is still there, spewing toxicity at an even greater rate.

Undetermined Effects On Deep Water Marine Life

Second, using dispersants to treat the oil can lead to undetermined effects on deep warter marine life. This method is an environmental trade-off. "We know that surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and organisms at the surface and when used this way, dispersants breakdown over several days. However the long term effects on aquatic life are unknown", the EPA says.

Oil dispersants are being used to prevent oil from spreading out on the surface, however, these chemicals can cause some of the same negative impacts on marine life as crude oil.  Many important habitats in the Gulf, such as coral reefs, mangroves and sandy beaches, are in danger with exposure to oil and its contaminants. As stated by Robert Lee Hozt (2010) on the Wallstreet Journal, "the remaining oil from the spill, hidden at depths or driven far afield by currents, is a moving target, making follow-up studies difficult. It may be years before all the technical findings can be assembled into a coherent mosaic." The issues surrounding the potential disadvantages of dispersants remain complicated. There is a growing concern about dispersants' possible toxic effects on coral reefs and other marine life. The use of dispersants represents an increase risk of exposing marine life to more oil than would be the case for untreated oil, which floats at the surface.

Adding ToxiNs To The Ocean

Third, the toxicity of dispersants remains as one of the controversial issues in the Gulf Oil Spill. Dr. Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, offers this: "The dispersants being applied by BP are among the most toxic to marine life; the oil itself is made more toxic after being treated." Research also has shown that when the dispersant breaks up the oil, it can free the most toxic components such as hydrocarbons. These modules then spread throughout the water and expose marine animals to more toxicity.

According to a report on Food and Water Watch website, "All dispersants are problematic, but Corexit 9500A is particularly bad. Not only it is less effective than another type of dispersants listed by the EPA (Dispersit SPC 1000), it is also around three times as toxic." Oil is toxic at 11 ppm while Corexit 9500 is toxic at 2.61 ppm. Both are toxic and are going into the ocean water. A report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. entitled "Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview" states that "Corexit 9500, Corexit 9527,  and Corexit 9580 have moderate toxicity to early life stages of fish, crustaceans and mollusks (LC50 or EC50 - 1.6 to 100 ppm*)."

Dispersants do not eliminate the oil, nor do they decrease the toxicity of the oil. Instead, that toxic crude oil and the dispersant will be spread all over the ocean's waters. Dispersal of the oil creates the illusion of cleaner water while actually adding toxicity that will persist for years.

Types Of Dispersant


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Statistical Data

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Why BP Chose Corexit

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Alternatives to Oil Dispersant

BP relied heavily on oil dispersant to clean up the oil spill. However, there are several alternatives to using oil dispersant. The following are four most commonly used methods to clean up the oil spill.

Burning The Oil

In attempts to handle the Gulf problems, controlled-burns can be a very effective method in providing a significant decrease in the amount of petroleum contained in the spill area. It is known as an accepted practice to clean up oil spill. Controlled burns have been done and tested in the past cases like the Exxon-Valdez incident 1989 to successfully eliminate "50 to 90 percent of the captured oil on the surface of the water". In the Gulf Oil Spill, there have been 166 fires burned between 78,988 to 112,136 barrels from April to November, 2010. An estimate of 50,000 to 70,000 barrels of oil was removed until June, 2010. Controlled burning of oil on the ocean surface also can reduce the environmental impacts at the shoreline. Although there have been controversial concerns about health problems and marine life affects, this method is said to be less harmful than using dispersants.

The process of controlled burns includes three main steps. First, boats will have to round up the oil with large U-shaped floating booms. Second, after it's collected, the oil will be ignited in a remote area. Although the oil burns quickly in about an hour, the procedure of collecting and burning oil probably should be done a couple of times a day. It would likely be an ongoing process until the well on the ocean floor is capped. Third, the burn remaining, which is a kind of hardened tar ball, will be removed from the water with nets or skimmers.

Despite being recognized as an effective respond to oil spill, the burning is not an easy process to control. The technique works better in calm, enclosed areas than in open waters. It might be difficult to implement the controlled burns in the middle of the ocean, with wave actions and lots of wind. The success of controlled burns depends on the weather and sea condition. Weather forecasting is extremely important to ensure that the wind will not shift and endanger local populations. The thickness of oil layer also can affect the effectiveness of burns. Oil with a thickness of 2 - 3 mm is necessary to initiate the burn. Thinner oil is cooled by the temperature of the water and therefore will not burn. The current use of dispersants also makes the controlled burns more difficult due to the high water content in the oil.

To successfully implement the controlled burning, BP should work closely with the Government and the EPA. A plan including time, place, and method of burning should be clearly designated basing on the weather and sea condition at each period. For the safety reasons, EPA has to consistently monitor the air quality and emissions from burning oil. If safety standards cannot be maintained, EPA could decide on the process termination to protect human and marine life.

Skimmer Ships

Oil skimmers can be another effective tool in the war against petroleum spills. Using skimmers to handle the oil spill is considered the most economical approach. This method is also less harmful to the environment and local populations. Experts say there have been some improvements in skimmers since the 1989 Exxon accident in Alaska. The world largest oil skimmer ship called A-Whale is being tested in collecting oil in the Gulf. The ship is expected to skim about 21 million gallons of oil a day. It raises new hopes in cleaning up the Gulf oil spill.

Skimmers scoop oil in different ways. Some depend simple operation of gravity to attract oil from water surface. Others run basing on a centrifuge to pull the oil out of the liquid. Baskin and Zimmerman (2010) explain the main operation principles of oil skimmers as following, "After water is ingested through the ship's vents, it is pumped into a series of containers, where oil rises to the top of the water over several days. The oil is then siphoned into a separate container, before being transferred to a tanker." The skimmers will then separate the oil and pump the cleansed seawater back into the Gulf.

However, because skimming takes place on the water surface, this technique is subject to the disruptions from the conditions of wind, water and currents. For instance, skimming cannot be done in rough seas and is often limited to daylight hours because of the difficulties in detecting oil at night. Another disadvantage of oil skimmer is its slow operation. The capacity of oil skimmers is directly related to the surface area of the collection device. These devices work better in controlled situations where the spill is intermittent. For the major oil spill like the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, these machines may not work efficiently.

The success of oil skimmers in cleaning the Gulf of might rely on different factors such as types of devices, condition of sea and weather. In order to ensure the efficiency of oil skimmers, BP as well as the Government should focus on researching and testing the performance of oil skimmers. BP should choose the correct skimmer type for the type of oil spilled. That will decrease the cost and make the respond more effective.

Evaporate The Oil

Evaporating the spilled oil is an unavoidable method that removes oil from the ocean. It is a natural process initiated by nature to protect itself from harmful oil. Crude oil is made up of various hydrocarbons. Once it is spilled into the ocean, it is exposed to various environmental processes such as heat, sunlight, and microbial actions. These environmental processes cause the hydrocarbons in crude oil to evaporate. Up to 50 percent of the volume of oil can evaporate. Meanwhile, the remaining oil in the water that does not evaporate will form tar balls that often wash up to the shores (Lodge, 2010).

The temperature in the Gulf Coast can reach around 110 Fahrenheit in the summer, and that causes oil to evaporate faster. Oil that evaporate may combine with the water vapor that will form rain droplets, and dispersed worldwide through wind actions. Gulf coast is known for its tropical rain and hurricane season around July to November. According to Dr. Remata Reddy from Jackson State University, acid rain are possible as oil evaporates and comes into contact with a tropical storm (WAPT, 2010).

Evaporating the oil has some adverse and even hazardous health effects. Scientific studies shows that the fumes that resulted from evaporated oil and dispersants can cause serious health problems to those who live around the area. The health problems include coughing, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headaches, tremors, convulsion, and even death if inhaled at a very high level. (Orlando Independent Examiners, 2010)

Figure : Physical reactions to exposure to Hydrogen Sulfide by amount. Source: Hydrogen Sulfide Safety Fact Sheet, SafetyDirectory.com.

As many as 75 workers that were cleaning up the area from oil spillage are having these symptoms. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the air quality level to be unsafe. Other reports prompt the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans to evacuate the Gulf coast up to 200 miles inland if the air becomes too toxic to breathe. The toxin in the air might be causing a greater damage than the toxin in the water.

In August, the White House federal science report approximated around 25 percent of the total oil spill has naturally evaporated or dissolved (Sweet, 2010). Since this is a natural process and cannot be avoided, BP and the Government have to continually monitor the air quality around the area and measure the level of acid that exists in the rain droplets. If necessary, they need to evacuate people affected with the poor air quality that resulted from the oil vapors. It is also necessary to educate the public in the affected area to stay indoors and ventilate their homes properly to limit their exposure to the oil vapors.

Using Barriers



Protecting The Coastline And Marine Life

After the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, the coastline and marine life are in danger of contamination. In terms of fixing the problem, the protection of the seashore and underwater life become the utmost consider. The accident of BP oil spill has raised the necessity of better marine environment protection. The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration mentioned: "Following the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we recognize the need to share best practices to protect the marine environment, prevent accidents related to offshore exploration and development, as well as transportation, and deal with their consequences."

The coastal and water surface cleanup is one way to minimize the possible damage. The oil has to be removed from the coast and the ocean as quickly as possible. The more time passes, the faster oil looses it's most explosive components and becomes more difficult to remove. The most important purpose is to clear out as much oil as possible to minimize the impact of petroleum spill on the coastal and marine life.  

The coastal cleanup usually does not require specialised equipment but using locally available equipment and the local work force. The process frequently includes three steps: removal of gross floating oil, removal of stranded oil, and final polish and aesthetic treatment. On the other hand, the water cleaning needs more complicated methods such as skimming, burning or using dispersants to remove oil. Whatever technique is it, organisation and good administration are the keys to effective cleanup. These methods need the close cooperation of oil spill response professionals and environmental agencies to reach the best solution. The oil characteristics, the contamination level, the environmental and economic impact, as well as the amenities of the impacted locations should be considered when cleaning up the coastline.

Although the methods above can help lessen the consequence of oil spill, the best way to protect the coastline and marine life is to do no drilling at all. The deepwater horizon oil drilling is necessary in order to limit dependency on foreign oil. However, the threat of petroleum spill could be unpredictable to the coastline and marine life. No matter how strong the oil companies promise, deepwater drilling is still a risky business. Therefore, the oil spill disaster raises needs for development of substitute energy kinds such as wind or solar power. Relying on this cleaner, greener and more stable energy could be wiser for the human beings and also better for other existing lives in the earth.

Using Better Dispersant

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Following EPA Guideline

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Ensuring proper removal of oil

Oil that is spilled to the ocean is almost impossible to be fully removed from the environment. However, it is necessary to remove as much oil as possible from the water, and to ensure proper removal of the captured oil.

The oil clean up alternatives discussed above are the main methods to remove oil from the ocean. According to the White House federal science report (Sweet, 2010), "33 percent of the total amount of oil released in the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill was captured or mitigated by the Unified Command recovery operations, including burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead." Furthermore, 25 percent of the oil evaporated or dissolved, and 16 percent was dispersed naturally. The 26 percent remaining oil is either on or near the surface of the ocean as residue and tar balls, has washed to the shore or been collected from the shore, or has seeped into the sand and sendiments.

Early reports from EPA and the White house shows that the dispersed oil is degrading quicker than expected. Since it is impossible to recapture the dispersed microscopic oil particles, BP has to focus on the remaining 26 percent balance of oil that is still in the ocean in the form of tar balls, oil plumes at the bottom of the ocean, and oil seepage in the sand and sediments. BP needs to continue its effort to collect as much oil as possible by burning the oil, using skimmer ships, and barriers.

Burning the oil may be done in selective area. However, BP must ensure that the pollution and hazardous oil vapors are contained so to minimize health impact to surrounding areas. Absorbent booms that floats and absorb oil is one way to collect the remaining oil near the surface of the water. It is useful to prevent oil from reaching the coast and contain the spill to as small of an area as possible. Since the booms materials absorb oil from the ocean surface, it must be handled with great care so that the oil is not released back into the water. Skimmer ships must also be used frequently around the affected areas since it is one of the safest method to clean up the spillage.

BP should also increase its transparency and work closely with environmentalists, the public, and government who wants to help in cleaning up the oil spill. The ideas and contribution from the various parties help the collection and removal of the oil from the ocean. In particular, Kevin Coastner, an actor and environmentalists, has a machine that can efficiently separate water and oil. This "centrifugal oil separator" machine, like skimmer ships, is safe for the environment creates little pollution. Furthermore, "Avatar" Director James Cameron is working on making his underwater vessels available to help with the cleanup effort.

BP must organize routine beach cleanup in order to remove tar balls and other oil remnants on the shores around the affected areas. With frequent use of the skimmer ships, booms, oil separating machine, help from public and government, and regular beach cleanup, the oil should be removed at a faster rate.

Independent Monitoring

Oil that was dispersed naturally and chemically caused the oil to break down into microscopic droplets. The dispersed oil particles are too small and cannot be collected. Therefore, they will remain in the oceanic system until they are naturally broken down by microbial actions. Since there is no mean to collect the dispersed oil, BP and the government have to continue tracking the toxicity level of the water. They also need to keep the public informed and work with the coast guard and residents around the area to make sure they avoid the contaminated areas. BP should release the monitoring results to the public so that everyone can avoid going into affected areas. Independent monitoring is extremely important because the long-term effects of dispersants used in large scale is still unknown.

Reports from CNN on November 9th shows that the dispersed oil has travelled up the food chain. The microorganisms that break down the oil particles are eaten by planktons that are, in turn, eaten by fishes and other marine life. Traces of oil can be found on fishes in the gulf that are captured by fishermen (Kuo, 2010). The government has to set a testing procedure for fishes and seafood captured around the oil spill area to make sure that the fish and other seafood are safe for human consumption.

Lastly, BP also need to monitor the air quality around the area. The vapors from oil burning and evaporation is toxic and BP must ensure that the residents around the area are properly notified and evacuated if necessary if the air quality drops to dangerous level.


BP oil deepwater horizon oil drilling rig exploded and caused millions of gallons of crude oil to pour into the Gulf, killing and injuring the workers that were present on the oil rig. Although the spill leakage was contained within three months, the oil spill caused many environmental problem; contaminating the ocean and everything that lives in it, as well as polluting the air and surrounding beaches.

Ongoing efforts to clean up the environment were made by BP and is monitored closely by the government, public, and environmentalists. During this time, BP is heavily scrutinized by the media and had to continuously be on top of its crisis management efforts. BP also faced several allegations issue about their choice to use Corexit as their primary oil dispersant. There were speculations about whether BP top executives had chosen to use Corexit due to personal gain. There were also rumors about BP illegally dumping chemicals into the ocean. All of these issues needed to be addressed by BP's crisis management team.

Some of the alternatives that were available and used by BP were burning the oil, using skimmer ships, evaporating the oil, using barriers, and spraying or injecting dispersants.

Burning the oil is a quick and easy alternative. However, it pollutes the air and may cause acid rain around the area. Using skimmer ships is another preferred method to clean up oil spillage. It is relatively environmentally safe as it collects the oil from the water. If the skimmer ship can be combined with Kevin Costner's oil separator machine, it can clean up the ocean more efficiently and safely. Evaporating the oil is unavoidable as it is part of nature's process. Approximately 25 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf was evaporated into the air. BP needs to collect the tar balls that were left behind and also clean up the tar balls that washes onto the shores.

Due to the amount of oil that was spilled into the ocean, dispersants were used to break down the oil particles into smaller droplets that can be digested by oceanic microorganism. Since mid-July, BP has stopped the use of dispersant. However, they need to continuously monitor the effects of the oil and dispersants in the ocean.