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Microbes Used In Oil Spill Cleanup

1650 words - 7 pages

Microbes used in Oil Spill Cleanup

Oil spills are very harmful to the environment and destroy coastal habitat and wildlife. Clean up and recovery from oil spills can be very difficult and costly. There are many factors to take into consideration when evaluating an oil spill such as what type of oil was spilled, water temperature, weather conditions, and the impact on the surrounding coastlines. A typical oil spill clean up approach is the controlled burn called IN-SITU Burning. This is where a high volume of oil is gathered together, using the help of ships and fire resistant booms, and then is ignited in a controlled burn. IN-SITU burning is a very fragile ...view middle of the document...

There is an increased abundance of naturally produced oil eating microbes concentrated in areas of natural occurring oil leaks on our ocean floors, and in waters with oil contamination due to heavy marine traffic. Every ocean in the world has some types of oil eating microbes that consume hydrocarbons as a source of food, and creates water and carbon dioxide as byproducts. These natural microbes are currently at work in the Gulf consuming oil, but these microbes do not eat oil at a fast enough rate to have a sufficient effect on restoring the environment to its normal state. This poses the question; can various methods of metabolically engineering microbes increase their ability to biodegrade hazardous waste?
IN-SITU burning is often differed due to concerns over air pollution, but it is a very effective way of eliminating oil from offshore spills. IN-SITU burning proves to be much cheaper than spraying chemical dispersants, and mechanical recovery. There are many factors that have to be taken into consideration when IN-SITU is being considered, such as water temperature, wind direction, wind speed, wave amplitude, slick thickness, oil type, and the amount of oil weathering and emulsification that has occurred. There is usually only a small window of opportunity when considering the use of IN-SITU burning methods because all of the conditions that have to be right. If the oil sits too long, emulsification occurs meaning the oil has mixed with too much water and it will not burn. When burning off the oil you must also take into consideration the effect of the many harmful pollutants that are put into the air. Experiments conducted by Environment Canada prove that the air pollution resulting from burning oil was much lower than expected, and the environmental effects resulting from burning the oil would far outweigh the potential air pollution caused by the smoke. The downside to this solution is that anything living on the surface, such as fish eggs or larvae, would be harmed by the burning, and the burn residuals of the oil would sink to the bottom and harm bottom dwelling plants and animals. The downfalls from the burning method are easily outweighed by the devastating long term environmental damage that would be suffered if the oil slicks made it to land and contaminated the shoreline.
Mechanical recovery is when booms, skimmers, vacuums, and separators are used to collect oil off the surface of the water. Skimming, vacuuming, and separating can only be preformed when conditions are favorable. Wind, waves, and currents can disrupt these processes, which makes mechanical recovery difficult to perform offshore. Skimming is a slow yet effective method for cleaning up oil spills in calm waters usually along shorelines. Skimmers work by using boats with containment equipment and machines with oil adhesive properties to provide a never ending surface for the oil to bind to when the skimming process continuously drives the oil...

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