Prevention

Secondary containment – methods to prevent releases of oil or hydrocarbons into environment.

Oil Spill Prevention Containment and Countermeasures (SPCC) program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Double-hulling – build double hulls into vessels, which reduces the risk and severity of a spill in case of a collision or grounding. Existing single-hull vessels can also be rebuilt to have a double hull.

Thick-hulled railroad transport tanks

Spill response procedures should include elements such as;

A listing of appropriate protective clothing, safety equipment, and cleanup materials required

for spill cleanup (gloves, respirators, etc.) and an explanation of their proper use;

Appropriate evacuation zones and procedures;

Availability of fire suppression equipment;

Disposal containers for spill cleanup materials; and

The first aid procedures that might be required.

Cleanup and recovery

Cleanup and recovery from an oil spill is difficult and depends upon many factors, including the type of oil spilled, the temperature of the water (affecting evaporation and biodegradation), and the types of shorelines and beaches involved.

Methods for cleaning up include:

Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil; such as the bacteria Alcanivorax or Methylocella Silvestris.

Bioremediation Accelerator: Oleophilic, hydrophobic chemical, containing no bacteria, which chemically and physically bonds to both soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons.

The bioremediation accelerator acts as a herding agent in water and on the surface, floating molecules to the surface of the water, including solubles such as phenols and BTEX, forming gel-like agglomerations.

Undetectable levels of hydrocarbons can be obtained in produced water and manageable water columns. By overspraying sheen with bioremediation accelerator, sheen is eliminated within minutes.

Whether applied on land or on water, the nutrient-rich emulsion creates a bloom of local, indigenous, pre-existing, hydrocarbon-consuming bacteria. Those specific bacteria break down the hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide.

with EPA tests showing 98% of alkanes biodegraded in 28 days; and aromatics being biodegraded 200 times faster than in nature they also sometimes use the hydrofireboom to clean the oil up by taking it away from most of the oil and burning it.

Controlled burning can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water, if done properly. But it can only be done in low wind, and can cause air pollution.


 Oil slicks on Lake Maracaibo

Volunteers cleaning up the aftermath of the Prestige oil spill

Dispersants can be used to dissipate oil slicks. A dispersant is either a non-surface active polymer or a surface-active substance added to a suspension, usually a colloid.

 to improve the separation of particles and to prevent settling or clumping. They may rapidly disperse large amounts of certain oil types from the sea surface by transferring it into the water column. They will cause the oil slick to break up and form water-soluble micelles that are rapidly diluted.

The oil is then effectively spread throughout a larger volume of water than the surface from where the oil was dispersed. They can also delay the formation of persistent oil-in-water emulsions.

However, laboratory experiments showed that dispersants increased toxic hydrocarbon levels in fish by a factor of up to 100 and may kill fish eggs.

Dispersed oil droplets infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. Research indicates that some dispersants are toxic to corals. A 2012 study found that Corexit dispersant had increased the toxicity of oil by up to 52 times.

Watch and wait: in some cases, natural attenuation of oil may be most appropriate, due to the invasive nature of facilitated methods of remediation, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas such as wetlands.

Dredging: for oils dispersed with detergents and other oils denser than water.

Skimming: Requires calm waters at all times during the process.

Solidifying: Solidifiers are composed of tiny, floating, dry ice pellets, and hydrophobic polymers that both adsorband absorb. They clean up oil spills by changing the physical state of spilled oil from liquid to a solid, semi-solid or a rubber-like material that floats on water.

Solidifiers are insoluble in water, therefore the removal of the solidified oil is easy and the oil will not leach out.

Solidifiers have been proven to be relatively non-toxic to aquatic and wild life and have been proven to suppress harmful vapors commonly associated with hydrocarbons such as Benzene, Xylene, Methyl Ethyl, Acetone and Naphtha.

The reaction time for solidification of oil is controlled by the surface area or size of the polymer or dry pellets as well as the viscosity and thickness of the oil layer.

Some solidifier product manufactures claim the solidified oil can be thawed and used if frozen with dry ice or disposed of in landfills, recycled as an additive in asphalt or rubber products, or burned as a low ash fuel.

A solidifier called C.I.Agent (manufactured by C.I.Agent Solutions of Louisville, Kentucky) is being used by BP in granular form, as well as in Marine and Sheen Booms at Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, Alabama, to aid in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup.

Vacuum and centrifuge: oil can be sucked up along with the water, and then a centrifuge can be used to separate the oil from the water – allowing a tanker to be filled with near pure oil.

Usually, the water is returned to the sea, making the process more efficient, but allowing small amounts of oil to go back as well. This issue has hampered the use of centrifuges due to a United States regulation limiting the amount of oil in water returned to the sea.

Beach Raking: coagulated oil that is left on the beach can be picked up by machinery.


Bags of oily waste from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Equipment used includes:

Booms: large floating barriers that round up oil and lift the oil off the water

Skimmers: skim the oil

Sorbents: large absorbents that absorb oil

Chemical and biological agents: helps to break down the oil

Vacuums: remove oil from beaches and water surface

Shovels and other road equipment: typically used to clean up oil on beaches

Sources and rate of occurrence

A VLCC tanker can carry 2 million barrels (320,000 m3) of crude oil. This is about eight times the amount spilled in the widely known Exxon Valdez incident. In this spill, the ship ran aground and dumped 260,000 barrels (41,000 m3) of oil into the ocean in March 1989.

Despite efforts of scientists, managers, and volunteers over 400,000 seabirds, about 1,000 sea otters, and immense numbers of fish were killed.

Considering the volume of oil carried by sea, however, tanker owners’ organisations often argue that the industry’s safety record is excellent, with only a tiny fraction of a percentage of oil cargoes carried ever being spilled.

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners has observed that “accidental oil spills this decade have been at record low levels—one third of the previous decade and one tenth of the 1970s—at a time when oil transported has more than doubled since the mid 1980s.”

Oil tankers are only one source of oil spills. According to the United States Coast Guard, 35.7% of the volume of oil spilled in the United States from 1991 to 2004 came from tank vessels (ships/barges).

27.6% from facilities and other non-vessels, 19.9% from non-tank vessels, and 9.3% from pipelines; 7.4% from mystery spills. On the other hand, only 5% of the actual spills came from oil tankers, while 51.8% came from other kinds of vessels.

The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation has tracked 9,351 accidental spills that have occurred since 1974. According to this study, most spills result from routine operations such as loading cargo, discharging cargo, and taking on fuel oil.

91% of the operational oil spills are small, resulting in less than 7 metric tons per spill. On the other hand, spills resulting from accidents like collisions, groundings, hull failures, and explosions are much larger, with 84% of these involving losses of over 700 metric tons.

Environmental effects

In general, sрilled oil can affect animals and plants in twо ways: dirесt from the oil and from the respоnsе or cleаnup process. There is no clear relationship between the amount of oil in the aquatic environment and the likely impact on biodiversity.

A smaller spill at the wrong time/wrong season and in a sensitive environment may prove much more harmful than a larger spill at another time of the year in another or even the same environment.

Oil penetrates into the structure of the plumage of birds and the fur of mammals, reducing its insulating ability, and making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water.

Animals who rely on scent to find their babies or mothers cannot due to the strong scent of the oil. This causes a baby to be rejected and abandoned, leaving the babies to starve and eventually die.

Oil can impair a bird’s ability to fly, preventing it from foraging or escaping from predators. As they preen, birds may ingest the oil coating their feathers, irritating the digestive tract, altering liver function, and causing kidney damage.

Together with their diminished foraging capacity, this can rapidly result in dehydration and metabolic imbalance. Some birds exposed to petroleum also experience changes in their hormonal balance, including changes in their luteinizing protein.

The majority of birds affected by oil spills die from complications without human intervention. Some studies have suggested that less than one percent of oil-soaked birds survive, even after cleaning, although the survival rate can also exceed ninety percent, as in the case of the Treasure oil spill.

Heavily furred marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in similar ways. Oil coats the fur of sea otters and seals, reducing its insulating effect, and leading to fluctuations in body temperature and hypothermia.

Oil can also blind an animal, leaving it defenseless. The ingestion of oil causes dehydration and impairs the digestive process. Animals can be poisoned, and may die from oil entering the lungs or liver.

There are three kinds of oil-consuming bacteria. Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and acid-producing bacteria are anaerobic, while general aerobic bacteria (GAB) are aerobic.

These bacteria occur naturally and will act to remove oil from an ecosystem, and their biomass will tend to replace other populations in the food chain.

Human impact

An oil spill represents an immediate fire hazard. The Kuwaiti oil fires produced air pollution that caused respiratory distress.[ The Deepwater Horizon explosion killed eleven oil rig workers. The fire resulting from the Lac-Mégantic derailment killed 47 and destroyed half of the town’s centre.

Spilled oil can also contaminate drinking water supplies. For example, in 2013 two different oil spills contaminated water supplies for 300,000 in Miri, Malaysia; 80,000 people in Coca, Ecuador,. In 2000, springs were contaminated by an oil spill in Clark County, Kentucky.

Contamination can have an economic impact on tourism and marine resource extraction industries. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted beach tourism and fishing along the Gulf Coast, and the responsible parties were required to compensate economic victims.

Nowruz oil field

1983 oil spills

One spill was initially caused by a tanker hitting a platform. In March, 1983, the platform was attacked by Iraqi helicopters and the spill caught fire.

The Iran–Iraq War prevented technicians from capping the well until 18 September 1983. It was capped with cement. Eleven people were killed during the capping.

A separate spill occurred when Iraqi helicopters attacked a nearby platform in March 1983. The well was capped in May 1985. Nine men were killed during the capping. Approximately 733,000 barrels (100,000 tonnes) of oil were spilled because of this incident.

Overall, 80 million gallons (about 260,000 tonnes) of oil were spilled.

Lakeview Gusher

Lakeview Gusher Number One was an eruption of hydrocarbons from a pressurized oil well in the Midway-Sunset Oil Field in Kern County, California, in 1910. It created the largest accidental oil spill in history, lasting 18 months and releasing 9 million barrels (1.4×106 m3) of crude oil.

Midway-Sunset was one of the largest oil reserves in America. When drilling commenced, the Lakeview Oil Company expected natural gas and a small amount of oil. Instead, there was a large blowout which overloaded storage tanks.

The 9-million-barrels (1.4×106 m3) geyser released more than 1.2 million US tons of crude, far more than any other single leak on land or water. Its site is located about a half-mile (800 m) east of the TaftMaricopa Highway, California Route 33, marked by a Caltrans guide sign and a bronze plaque designated as California Historical Landmark number 485.

Environmental impact

Immediately following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, predictions were made of an environmental disaster stemming from Iraqi threats to blow up captured Kuwaiti oil wells.

Speculation ranging from a nuclear winter type scenario, to heavy acid rain and even short term immediate global warming were presented at the World Climate Conference in Geneva that November.

On January 10, 1991, a paper appearing in the Journal Nature, stated Paul Crutzen‘s calculations that the setting alight of the Kuwait oil wells would produce a “nuclear winter“, with a cloud of smoke covering half of the Northern Hemisphere after 100 days had passed and beneath the cloud, temperatures would be reduced by 5-10 Celsius.

 This was followed by articles printed in the Wilmington morning star and the Baltimore Sun newspapers in mid to late January 1991, with the popular TV scientist personality of the time, Carl Sagan, who was also the co-author of the first few nuclear winterpapers along with Richard P. Turco, John W. Birks, Alan Robock and Paul Crutzen together collectively stated that they expected catastrophic nuclear winter like effects with continental sized impacts of “sub-freezing” temperatures as a result of if the Iraqis went through with their threats of igniting 300 to 500 pressurized oil wells and they burned for a few months.[8][32]

Later when Operation Desert Storm had begun, Dr. S. Fred Singer and Carl Sagan discussed the possible environmental impacts of the Kuwaiti petroleum fires on the ABC News program Nightline.

Sagan again argued that some of the effects of the smoke could be similar to the effects of a nuclear winter, with smoke lofting into the stratosphere, a region of the atmosphere beginning around 43,000 feet (13,000 m) above sea level at Kuwait, resulting in global effects and that he believed the net effects would be very similar to the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815, which resulted in the year 1816 being known as the Year Without a Summer.

He reported on initial modeling estimates that forecast impacts extending to south Asia, and perhaps to the northern hemisphere as well. Singer, on the other hand, said that calculations showed that the smoke would go to an altitude of about 3,000 feet (910 m) and then be rained out after about three to five days and thus the lifetime of the smoke would be limited.

Both height estimates made by Singer and Sagan turned out to be wrong, albeit with Singer’s narrative being closer to what transpired, with the comparatively minimal atmospheric effects remaining limited to the Persian Gulf region, with smoke plumes, in general, lofting to about 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and a few times as high as 20,000 feet (6,100 m).

Along with Singer’s televised critique, Richard D. Small criticized the initial Nature paper in a reply on March 7, 1991 arguing along similar lines as Singer.

Sagan later conceded in his book The Demon-Haunted World that his prediction did not turn out to be correct: “it was pitch black at noon and temperatures dropped 4–6 °C over the Persian Gulf, but not much smoke reached stratospheric altitudes and Asia was spared.”

At the peak of the fires, the smoke absorbed 75 to 80% of the sun’s radiation. The particles rose to a maximum of 20,000 feet (6,100 m), but were scavenged by cloud condensation nuclei from the atmosphere relatively quickly.[

Sagan and his colleagues expected that a “self-lofting” of the sooty smoke would occur when it absorbed the sun’s heat radiation, with little to no scavenging occurring, whereby the black particles of soot would be heated by the sun and lifted/lofted higher and higher into the air.

thereby injecting the soot into the stratosphere where it would take years for the sun blocking effect of this aerosol of soot to fall out of the air, and with that, catastrophic ground level cooling and agricultural impacts in Asia and possibly the Northern Hemisphere as a whole.

In retrospect, it is now known that smoke from the Kuwait oil fires only affected the weather pattern throughout the Persian Gulf and surrounding region during the periods that the fires were burning in 1991, with lower atmospheric winds blowing the smoke along the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula, and cities such as Dhahran and Riyadh, and countries such as Bahrain experienced days with smoke filled skies and carbon soot rainout/fallout.

Thus the immediate consequence of the arson sabotage was a dramatic regional decrease in air quality, causing respiratory problems for many Kuwaitis and those in neighboring countries.

According to the 1992 study from Peter Hobbs and Lawrence Radke daily emissions of sulfur dioxide (which can generate acid rain) were 57% of that from electric utilities in the United States, emissions of carbon dioxide were 2% of global emissions and emissions of soot were 3400 metric tons per day.

In a paper in the DTIC archive, published in 2000, it states that “Calculations based on smoke from Kuwaiti oil fires in May and June of 1991 indicate that combustion efficiency was about 96% in producing carbon dioxide.

While, with respect to the incomplete combustion fraction, Smoke particulate matter accounted for 2% of the fuel burned, of which 0.4% was soot.”[With the remaining 2%, being oil that did not undergo any initial combustion].

Fire documentaries

The fires were the subject of a 1992 IMAX documentary film, Fires of Kuwait, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film includes footage of the Hungarian team using their jet turbine extinguisher.

Lessons of Darkness is a 1992 film by director Werner Herzog that explores of the ravaged oil fields of post-Gulf War Kuwait,

Betchel Corporation produced a short documentary titled Kuwait: Bringing Back the Sun that summarizes and focuses upon the fire fighting efforts, which were dubbed the Al-Awda (Arabic for “The Return”) project.

Extinguishing efforts

The burning wells needed to be extinguished as, without active efforts, Kuwait would lose billions of dollars in oil revenues. It was predicted that the fires would burn from two to five years before losing pressure and going out on their own, optimists estimating two years and pessimists estimating five while the majority estimated three years until this occurred.

The companies responsible for extinguishing the fires initially were Red Adair Company (now sold off to Global Industries of Louisiana), Boots and Coots, and Wild Well Control. Safety Boss was the fourth company to arrive but ended up extinguishing and capping the most wells of any other company: 180 of the 600. Other companies including Cudd Well/Pressure Control, Neal Adams Firefighters, and Kuwait Wild Well Killers were also contracted.

According to Larry H. Flak, a petroleum engineer for Boots and Coots International Well Control, 90% of all the 1991 fires in Kuwait were put out with nothing but sea water, sprayed from powerful hoses at the base of the fire.

The water supply to the arid desert region was supplied by re-purposing the oil pipelines that prior to the arson attack, pumped oil to the Persian Gulf, the pipeline was mildly damaged and once repaired its flow was reversed to pump Persian gulf seawater to the burning oil wells.

The extinguishing rate was approximately 1 every 7–10 days at the start of efforts but then with experience gained and the removal of the mine fields that surrounded the burning wells, the rate increased to 2 or more per day.

Safety Boss’ use of their own “Smokey” Series Firetrucks was unique and allowed for much quicker extinguishing of wells. This was the primary reason for their quick outpacing of other companies’ efforts.

The Emir of Kuwait rewarded Safety Boss with the extinguishing of the last well on the Project in November 1991.

For stubborn oil well fires, the use of a gas turbine to blast a large volume of water at high velocity at the fire proved popular with firefighters in Kuwait and was brought to the region by Hungarians equipped with MiG-21 engines mounted originally on a T-34 (later replaced with T55) tank, called Big wind. It extinguished 9 fires in 43 days.

In fighting a fire at a directly vertical spewing wellhead, high explosives, such as dynamite were used to create a blast wave that pushes the burning fuel and local atmospheric oxygen away from the well.

(This is a similar principle to blowing out a candle.) The flame is removed and the fuel can continue to spill out without igniting. Generally, explosives were placed within 55 gallon drums, the explosives surrounded by fire retardant chemicals, and then the drums are wrapped with insulating material with a horizontal crane being used to bring the drum as close to the burning area as possible.

The firefighting teams titled their occupation as “Operation Desert Hell” after Operation Desert Storm.