Ways of Cleaning Up Oil Spills ~ Kwentology

How Are Oil Spills Cleaned Up?

In 2010, an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and sent oil spewing into the water. Before the leak was plugged, 206 million gallons of oil had flowed into the Gulf, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In an average year (2010 was not an average year), ships and pipelines spill about 1.3 million gallons of oil in U.S. waters.

Oil spills happen for many reasons, from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes to accidents involving tankers, pipelines, and oil storage tanks. Whatever the cause, oil spills—especially those in the ocean—harm animals and the environment. Because oil spills have become common, more and more ways of cleaning them up have been invented.

Ways and Materials Use for Cleaning

Image of Boom Oil Spill Fence By Point Images


These long, snake-like tubes float on the water like a fence to corral an oil slick and keep it from spreading.

Image of Oil Sorbent By U.S Coastguard


Sponge-like material, called sorbents, are dropped into the water to absorb oil. Sorbents can be natural like straw or sawdust, or they can be human-made materials. When they absorb all they can, the oil soaked sponges are removed from the water.

Image of Burning Oil Spill By SkyTruth


Sometimes an oil slick is set on fire to burn off the oil. Not everyone likes this method because the smoke causes air pollution.

Other tools to clean up include:


These are sometimes used to break the oil into small droplets. Waves and currents break the droplets into smaller droplets.


Chemicals called gelling agents make the oil form small, rubber-like balls. Nets and suction machines remove the balls from the water.


Some bacteria in water slowly eat oil. To speed things up, extra bacteria can be added to the water.

Troubled Waters

The pipe that leaked oil in the Gulf of Mexico has been plugged. But that didn't end the problems the spill caused. The oil was very bad for birds. More than 2,000 birds covered in oil had been found alive. More than 2,000 other oily birds were found dead. People were also hurt by the oil spill. Many who live in the Gulf region make their living from fishing industry. People lost their jobs when the oily waters were closed for fishing. Gulf towns usually packed with beach visitors were empty the summer of 2010. Hotels, restaurants, and stores lost money.

Slowly the Gulf of Mexico was restored. Wildlife were cleaned. Beaches opened. People returned to their jobs as fishers. But still, no one is sure what effect the oil spill will have on Gulf waters in the years to come. Other countries suffered in the same situation last years and chances are, there is possibility that it may happen from time to time.
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