The Necessity of Quick Oil Spill Containment

Workers remove crude oil from a beach, Crude oil on oil spill

Workers remove crude oil from a beach, Crude oil on oil spill

Oil spills provide a nightmarish view of humanity’s environmental impact.

They’re also responsible for the largest financial settlements in the Department of Justice’s history. Companies and clean-up crews need a quick response to limit the scale of oil spills and avoid repercussions.

But accidents will always happen. Below, read about how a swift response is vital to effective oil spill containment.

Impact of an Oil Spill

We can separate oil spills into two broad groups — smaller spills from land-based sources, and larger spills at sea from oil rigs and tankers. Let’s take a look at some of the problems the two types can cause.

Small Spills

Traffic Disruption

Small-scale oil spills pose a risk to traffic. They make surfaces slick, creating an unsafe environment for vehicles. Unfortunately, most oil spills are likely to occur on or near roads.

Oil spill containment can require heavy equipment and along with unsafe driving conditions can lead to road closures and tailbacks.


Oil in high concentrations can cause vapor build-up which ignites easily. Untrained emergency responders may attempt to wash oil into storm drains and sewers, enclosing fumes in a tight space. These fumes can ignite, creating risk to life and infrastructure.


Oil creates a large risk for wildlife and human health when it enters the water table. Spills can kill animals outright. Humans may experience stomach problems from consuming unsafe water contaminated by oil or decaying animals.

Large Spills

Ecological Disaster

It’s hard to overstate the environmental impact of oil spills.

An oil spill is a localized apocalypse to surrounding ecology. In this case ‘localized’ is relative, but could mean up to 68,000 square miles. Within that area, oil can blind or choke animals, and cause parents to lose track of their young due to loss of scent. Birds and mammals will struggle to remain buoyant after the oil gets stuck to their fur or feathers. They’ll injest oil trying to clean themselves.

The impact to plant life and the total food chain leads to mass starvation across the entire ecosystem.

Human Impact

Large-scale oil spills will ruin livelihoods.

Oil spills negatively impact tourist areas. Health risks and the destruction of beautiful tourist sites can damage the economy.

Many waterside towns rely on fishing as a major source of income. Contamination and death of fish stock leave residents unable to make a living. Ultimately, this destroys the community.

Oil spills also have a major effect on the health of those involved in clean-up. Long-term effects aren’t currently known, but workers report dizziness, headaches, and vomiting.


In a worst-case scenario for companies handling oil, spills can result in overwhelming legal action.

The BP Deepwater Horizon incident has become the modern representation of the results of an oil spill. The spill’s environmental impact along with neglect shown by BP landed them with a settlement fee of $20 billion.

Quick oil spill containment is vital to protect companies against financial damage. This damage can take the form of legal fees and negative public backlash. Large-scale disasters can also inform future regulation, putting higher demands on companies working in the industry.

Importance of Containment


Immediate detection is vital part in oil spill containment.

But oil companies routinely show they’re unable to detect even large-scale spills. Shell’s Glider Field leak in 2016 remained undetected until a civilian aircraft flew over the area and noticed the slick.

Even so, detecting an oil spill is the first step in containment. We can expect companies to revise detection procedures in the wake of tighter regulations.

Boots on the Ground

Oil spill containment demands the right equipment, from skimmers and booms to HAZMAT workers. Fast-response contingency plans are vital to getting hardware and teams to the site rapidly. Oil spills happen unexpectedly, so crews often need to transport heavy machinery to the area before clean-up can begin.

Most agencies don’t have teams sitting idle waiting for oil spills. Fast response means contacting and deploying extra manpower as quickly as possible. The slower the response, the larger the problem. This can create a race between the scale of the disaster and the size of the response.


Oil emulsifies on contact with water. This leaves oil with a thick, sticky consistency. Emulsified oil is far more difficult to contain. Response teams need to move fast to contain the spread of oil before it can reach water sources.

Small-scale spills can easily enter the natural environment through storm drains and nearby lakes. Responders often lack the equipment locally to deal with this kind of spill. By the time response arrives, it’s almost impossible to reverse the damage.

Large-scale spills usually originate from oil rigs and tankers, so the oil begins to emulsify immediately. Emulsified oil at sea needs a fast response to contain it before it can spread.

Increasing Impact

Oil spills snowball quickly into ecological disasters. And the farther an oil spill spreads, the harder it becomes to clean up.

Although some oil will evaporate off following a spill, much of it remains in the water. Once dispersed, it becomes impossible to retrieve or even measure the remaining oil.

Once oil has spread from its point of origin, it can cover many thousands of square miles of open ocean and devastate hundreds of miles of coastline.


Companies are under strict regulatory pressure when it comes to oil spills. Businesses responsible for spills that may pose a large-scale hazard need to report to the PCA.

Companies who can show they’ve taken all available steps are less likely to face intense scrutiny and legal battles. Negligent practices are likely to lead financial losses for the organization that spilled. In extreme scenarios, businesses and even individuals involved can face federal charges.

Fast Response Oil Spill Containment

Recent high-profile oil spills are likely to lead to increased scrutiny for businesses. Governments will expect faster and more decisive responses to disasters. Those working with oil need to stay informed about measures they may need to take.

For the fastest response to any hazardous materials spills in Las Vegas, Reno, Boise, Salt Lake City, or Phoenix contact H2O Environmental

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