Repeat of the Past

March 24th, is the 25th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. In Houston, at the Ship Channel, efforts continue to  clean-up an oil spill that occurred over the weekend. Though the spill was on a smaller scale it still is taking a while to clean up. Oil spills are difficult to clean and there are still remains of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill from 25 years ago. This is why new technology is so important.

They are currently using containment booms and oil-retrieving skimmers to collect this oil. With technology from MIT recovering this oil would be much more productive and would reduce the economic impact of a spill. The idea is to magnetize the oil so that magnets can separate it from the water. The skimmers would collect water that has been contaminated with the oil and then water-repellent nanoparticles (that would be part iron) would be mixed into the polluted water mixing exclusively with the oil. The oil would then become magnetized allowing the oil to be magnetically separated from the seawater. This oil could then still be used  at an oil refinery and the water could be returned to the sea.

Though this solution seems like a more efficient way to collect spilled oil there are many concerns. There is no data on how the nanoparticles could be affect marine life. There are also similar issues with current skimmers in that they are hindered by certain weather. There is also no mention on the approximate cost of the this technology and it’s costs could outweigh the benefits.

Many people think that this is a better small scale solution or should be implemented after the oil has been brought to shore. Overall though this small improvement in technology seems an interesting method to research but it isn’t going to be the revolutionary technology that makes cleaning oil spills a simple task.


Oil Spoils the World

The United States on it’s own consumes 18.55 million barrels of oil. This is more than any other country in the world. To fulfill our oil needs not only do we drill for oil on our own land but we also import a lot of oil from other countries, some of these across oceans. The US is not the only country though that uses oil, as oil is used worldwide. The global market of oil along with offshore drilling allows for the possible risk of an oil spill. Oil spills are harmful to the environment destroying ecosystems and to the economy as remediation of the area has to be paid for and the local businesses are negatively impacted. 

The first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859. From then on more wells have been dug and the risk of an oil spill occurring has increased. Oil spills can happen for various reasons and can happen at any stage of getting the oil. It call also happen if a rig is damaged or the boats carrying the oil get in some sort of accident. 

Offshore drilling causes oil spills in the ocean and can travel quickly depending on the type of oil that was released. Offshore drilling is also controversial because it brings up other chemicals from the earth polluting the water. The use of seismic waves to locate oil disorients aquatic life causing devastating events like beached whales. At the same time with new technology offshore drilling is not as dangerous and less oil has been spilt recently than in the past.  

All of the drilling and transportation of oil can cause problems if there are spills and so various technologies have been created to deal with this problem. The first method used is to contain the oil to limit the spread. This is known as mechanical containment or recovery. There are also various chemical and biological methods such as using dispersants, chalk sponges or peat moss. Other methods include washing the soil or using skimmers to collect the oil.

The newest method is to create a virtual wall to create an invisible barrier to prevent oil spills from spreading. This new technology is being developed by the University of Missouri. It was created to help research study oil on a microscopic level but can be expanded to larger areas. This barrier would keep the oil in a predetermined area making it a lot easier to manage. This barrier works because it repels the oil.  Researchers hope that this technology can eventually be used to transport oil without any spills.