The EPA has established several programs to prevent oil spills which have reduced this number to less than 1% of the total volume handled each year. The Oil Spill Program is administered through 10 EPA regions and EPA Headquarters. Part of the program is designed to prepare for and respond to any oil spill affecting the inland waters of the US. The EPA’s history of responding to oil spills, including several major incidents and the lessons learned, has helped improve the prevention and response capabilities of the US.
The key to controlling oil spills and minimizing their impact upon human health and the environment lies in:
- The careful selection of equipment which is best suited to the type of oil and spill conditions.
- The proper use of that equipment.
Spill response equipment can be affected by conditions at sea:
- Water currents
However, damage to spill contaminated shorelines and threatened areas can be reduced by the timely and proper use of containment and recovery equipment.
Mechanical Containment or Recovery Equipment
This is the primary line of defense against oil spills in this country and some commonly used types of equipment are:
- Natural and synthetic sorbent materials
- Mechanical containment is used to capture and store the spilled oil until it can be properly disposed of.
Chemical and Biological Methods
This can be used in conjunction with mechanical means to contain and clean up spills.
- Dispersing agents and gelling agents help keep oil from reaching shorelines and sensitive habitats.
- Biological agents can assist recovery in sensitive areas like shorelines, marshes, and wetlands. Research into these technologies continues to improve cleanup.
- The EPA’s National Contingency Plan (NCP) Subpart J establishes a process for authorizing the use of dispersants and chemical response agents. The NCP Product Schedule is the government’s listing of chemical countermeasures that are available for use during or after a spill.
Natural processes such as evaporation, oxidation, and biodegradation can start the cleanup process but generally they are not sufficient to provide adequate environmental recovery. Some additional methods are:
- Wiping with sorbent materials
- Pressure washing
This is done to scare off birds and animals to keep them out of spill areas. This includes:
- Propane scare cans
- Floating dummies
- Helium filled balloons
These methods are often successful in scaring off birds.