Please Explain: Oil Spills

Friday, November 30, 2007

58,000 gallons of oil were recently spilled in the San Francisco Bay…and much of it will never be cleaned up. On today’s Please Explain: how oil spills harm the environment, and why they’re so hard to clean up.

Christopher M. Reddy is a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Debra L. Payton the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helps coordinate oil spill cleanups.


Debra L. Payton and Christopher M. Reddy

Comments [5]


Is your guest a Bush appointee? Her description of oil spill prevention sounds a little too sunny to me.

Nov. 30 2007 12:59 PM

Does your guest have any opinion on SCOTUS decision of Exxon's penalty?

Nov. 30 2007 12:55 PM

1. Why did it take so long to get out the booms to contain the San Francisco spill?

2. Years ago I heard someone was developing a basterium that would eat the oil, then when the spill was consumed, the bacterium would die. Whatever happened to that?

Nov. 30 2007 12:48 PM
Robin Perry from UK

A few drops of gasoline dropped onto a bowl of water will rapidly cover the whole surface. The same happens at sea and oil is also spread by tides current and wind breaking into windrows or patches and can cover many square miles of the sea. This makes containing the oil very difficult unless it is done within minutes close to the source before it spreads.

Booms can only surround small areas and cannot cover the whole area of the spill. Even worse, the boom cannot contain oil once the current across its face exceeds about 1 mph. The water pressing against the boom either has to go over or under the boom together with the oil. This is limits the use of for towing booms for towing and anchored booms in strong tides.

Crude oil is not homogeneous and no crudes are the same. They contains variable fractions of LPG, Benzene, Gasoline, Kerosene, Lube Oil, Fuel Oil and Bitumen. The lighter fractions are toxic and can dissolve in water; hence in shallow water with little mixing it can be lethal to fish and marine animals. The heavier fractions tend to smother shoreline animals and coat the birds.

Hair and feathers can be used to clean up oil, but so can many other substances, to which oil will stick and water will not. But, how do you use them in the open ocean?

Nov. 30 2007 06:12 AM
jd from nyc

i once heard that a [male] hairdresser/barber, that lived near NASA in Florida, found out by accident [don't remember the exact story] that hair clippings were very absorbant of oil, even the heavier stuff.
Anybody know anything about this. I've also heard about chicken feathers being used as well; already dead and plucked, that is.

Nov. 30 2007 12:45 AM

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