Countering Crude: 6 Creative Strategies for Oil Spill Mitigation
When you think about oil spills, you likely imagine historic events like the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Although those large-scale environmental disasters are notable, they’re not the only oil spills. Marine life and global populations deal with thousands of spills annually in United States waters alone.
These are some factors to consider amid an oil spill, as well as creative strategies people use for oil spill mitigation.
Most Important Factors When an Oil Spill Occurs
You need to understand what complicates a challenge before you can find an effective solution. These are the most pressing matters people consider after an oil spill occurs.
1. How the Oil Affects the Marine Environment
The nearby plants and wildlife suffer when fossil fuels leak into the ocean or another waterway. The oil coats animals and ruins their coats, leading to hypothermia and death. Many animals mistake the oil for food and die from ingesting it.
Others, like whales or dolphins, accidentally inhale the oil. If they don’t die immediately, the substance absorbs into their bloodstream and affects everything from their reproductive organs to daily bodily functions.
Plant life may die from direct exposure to the natural toxicity of oil. If they don’t, the oil clouds the water and prevents them from accessing sunlight.
2. How the Spill Changes Drinking Water
Deep sea mining rigs aren’t the only places experiencing oil spills yearly. Transport trucks get into accidents on highways and accidentally spill their oil. It seeps into local waterways, contaminating drinking water sources.
The same sources also supply water to farms and can cause water shortages that complicate farming and food production.
3. How Far the Oil Spreads
Most water sources have continual movement, so the oil doesn’t leak into standing water. Oceanic oil disasters carry fossil fuels through currents. Rivers each have a specific speed, depending on their water level. The oil goes where the water takes it, potentially reaching more wildlife, plant life and drinking water sources within minutes.
Strategies to Resolve Oil Spills
When an oil spill occurs, a fast and efficient response reduces its planetary harm. Check out a few creative strategies people use or are developing to solve oil spills faster than ever.
1. Carbon-Based Surface Sponges
After someone spills something on your floor, you might grab a mop or a paper towel to soak it up. The porous materials soak up any liquids they touch. Placing a large sponge over an oil spill would work the same way if the sponge could absorb the thick fossil fuel. Researchers now know how to make that happen.
Scientists know how to combine carbon with porous materials to create carbon sponges. When they sit on top of oil, the carbon begins its superoleophilic absorption process by attracting the thick substance with Van der Waals forces. The oil sucks into the sponge as easily as water. When it’s full, emergency responders can easily squeeze the oil out of the sponge into a secure container for safer disposal.
2. Water Drainage Pipes With Oil Traps
Significant area coverage is necessary to contain and stop the environmental damage associated with a large oil spill. Drainage pipes may help with that due to modern advances in oil traps.
How do these oil traps work? They drain water while trapping any oil flowing through them. It’s an on-site solution that begins resolving oil spills immediately after installation, utilizing multiple layers of filter material to remove oil.
This solution is especially helpful for commercial spills near residential areas. Trained teams can quickly install the pipes into vertical drainage areas to catch the oil through the nearby land or building slope. Faster solutions save local biomes and drinking waters, making drainage pipes with easily cleanable oil traps a significant resource in a world still dependent on fossil fuels.
3. Autonomous Oil Spill Robots
Robots can do much more than deliver packages by drone or operate self-driving cars. They’ll also mitigate oil spills when the technology becomes more widely available.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that nanowire mesh can absorb oil, so they built a conveyor belt robot to move the oil through the mesh and direct it into bags. It’s a creative strategy for oil spill mitigation but isn’t widely available because the technology remains limited. When it’s ready for mass production, robots could be another popular tool to save the environment.
4. Human Hair
The next time you sit down for a haircut, you’ll look at the pile of cut strands on the floor differently. A hairdresser in Wales noticed how much hair she threw away daily and how it resembled a rug. After developing a way to transform her client’s unwanted hair clippings into actual mats, she tested their oil absorption in a lab setting.
The hair mats were successful. They could easily soak up many times their weight in oil without requiring natural resources in their manufacturing process. If more mitigation funding backs ideas like this, the world could have an accessible, biodegradable solution for oil spill cleanup.
5. Surface Skimmers
Think about when you watched someone clean your community pool or have cleaned one yourself. You likely saw a pool skimmer in action. The mesh moves across the water’s surface to catch floating debris like leaves and bugs. Oil spill cleanup may look more similar to that in the future, thanks to surface skimmers built to trap fossil fuels.
Boats can drag skimmer systems across oil spills to catch gallons of the sticky liquid at a time. It’s a quick solution for surface oil but may need more development to trap the substance affecting marine life deeper in the water.
6. Magnetic Soap
Oil dispersants are currently cleaning up spilled oil, but they only work in small areas and require secondary cleanup. Most also don’t naturally biodegrade, so they float around with their contained oil. The helpful soap could become more useful with an upgrade like iron.
Researchers are currently working on combining oil dispersants with iron to bind the free-floating oil. It would work in the same way the dispersants currently do, but magnets held above the surface would draw the iron molecules out of the water.
The magnet’s strength could draw the oil from the surface and areas below it. It could become a great tool while the world still depends on fossil fuels and experiences frequent oil spills.
Oil Spills Require Creative Solutions
Innovation and the drive to help people encourage global teams to find new ways to solve oil spills. These are some of the most creative strategies currently available or in development. When people can access these resources worldwide, oil spills will do less damage to plants, animals and drinking water sources.