Factsheet: Options for Dealing with an Oil Spill - Oceana USA
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May 13, 2010

Factsheet: Options for Dealing with an Oil Spill

There is no truly effective way of cleaning up an oil spill. All the options available are not fully effective or have negative impacts.

Burning the Slick

Unfortunately, burning the oil is a no-win situation; it creates large, toxic plumes of smoke that can result in respiratory problems and eye, nose, throat and skin irritations in both wildlife and humans. Birds may also become disoriented in the smoke.

Burning may be the lesser of two evils as it removes large amounts of oil that can result in immediate and long-term impacts to wildlife in the area, including skin irritations, organ damage, reproductive failures, developmental abnormalities and death.

Even after these burn there will still be oil remaining in the marine environment as there is no truly effective way of cleaning up a spill.


BP continues to pump dispersant chemicals underwater at an unprecedented depth. Since these chemicals are toxic, this practice would almost certainly be illegal on any other day, and it remains to be seen what effects the chemicals will ultimately have on marine life.

The aim of using a dispersant is to increase the amount of oil that mixes into the water column, thereby reducing the amount on the surface and decreasing the chances of shoreline contamination.

While dispersants can decrease the exposure for surface dwelling organisms, such as seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles, they increase the possibility of exposure for species within the water column and benthos, such as fish, eggs and larvae, and shrimp, oysters and corals.

Dispersed oil particles tend to assume a less visible, more persistent and pervasive presence in the environment, with increased opportunities for long-term ecological impacts, particularly in coastal areas.