Spill Containment Methods
During a spill response, sensitive locations threatened by an advancing oil slick can be protected with various kinds of equipment and tactics:
Booms are floating barriers to oil, made of plastic, metal, or other materials. They are commonly placed
- across a narrow entrance to the ocean, such as a stream outlet or small inlet (like Roosevelt Inlet, in this exercise), to close off that entrance so that oil can't pass through into marshland or other sensitive habitat.
- in places where the boom can deflect oil away from sensitive locations, such as shellfish beds or, in this exercise, beaches used by piping plovers as nesting habitat.
- around a sensitive site, to prevent oil from reaching it. In the photo above, boom surrounds a set of floating net pens at a salmon hatchery in Prince William Sound, Alaska, to protect the pens from oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez.
Skimmers are boats and other devices that can remove oil from the sea surface before it reaches sensitive areas along a coastline. In the photo below, oil is being skimmed from the sea surface. Two boats are towing a collection boom, while oil concentrated within the boom is being picked up by the skimmer (the vessel at the apex of the boom).
If local authorities and response experts agree, other possible--but more controversial--measures responders might consider include:
In-situ burning of an oil slick, or part of a slick, before it reaches the coast. To do this, responders corral some of the oil from the slick in a fire-proof boom, then ignite it (as has been done in the photo to the right). This technique works best when the oil is fresh and the weather relatively calm.
Using aircraft or boats to apply dispersants (chemicals that disperse the oil into the water column, so that much less stays at the surface, where it could affect beaches and tideflats).
Spill response experts know that all of these methods are effective only when conditions are conducive to using them.