Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If I encounter an oil or chemical spill, whom should I report it to?

Oil spills must be responded to immediately to prevent massive diffusion and environmental damage
Oil spills must be responded to immediately to prevent massive diffusion and environmental damage
Oil spills must be responded to immediately to prevent massive diffusion and environmental damage

A. Within the U.S., you should report oil or chemical spills to the National Response Center, at 800-424-8802. They may ask you questions like these: Where is the spill? What spilled? How much spilled? How concentrated is the spilled material (if it’s a chemical)? Who spilled the material? Is anyone cleaning up the spill? What’s being damaged?

When you see a spill, call on 3R Inc. We will help you in any way. For a description of our oil spill remediation services click here.

Q. How long does it take to clean up an oil spill?

A. This depends on the amount and type of oil spilled, where it goes, and what types of shorelines are impacted. For a very large spill with lots of impacts on shorelines that are difficult to clean (such as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989), cleanup can continue for several years. More commonly, cleanup takes from several days to a few weeks.

Q. What’s the difference between dispersants and bioremediation agents? Or is there a difference?

A. Dispersants and bioremediation agents are considered separately in oil spill response, because of two important differences between these response methods. One difference has to do with the mechanism by which they help to “clean up” oil, and the other has to do with where and how they are used.

In the dispersant category are products that are applied to the water surface in order to break up surface oil slicks and facilitate the movement of oil particles into the water column. There is evidence that dispersed oil degrades more quickly than undispersed oil, perhaps because the total surface area of an oil slick increases as dispersants break up the slick into small droplets.

Bioremediation agents are almost always applied to residual oil on shorelines, for long-term cleanup situations. Usually, heavy oil is first removed before bioremediation is undertaken. Bioremediation agents act by speeding up the microbial degradation of the petroleum molecules.

Q. How long does it take for spilled oil to seep into the ground?

A. The way oil behaves depends on the kind of oil, the kind of ground it has spilled onto (e.g., coarse or fine sand, rock, mudflat, and so on), the kind of environment it spills into, and the weather at the time of the spill.  For example, while a light oil will penetrate quickly into a coarse sediment, a heavy oil will penetrate more slowly or not at all. Oil may not penetrate at all into a fine-grained beach, because the sand grains are so closely packed together that there’s little space between them for the oil to penetrate. In hot weather, oil is more likely to seep into the ground than in cold weather, because oil doesn’t flow as easily when it’s cold.

Q. When an oil spill happens, does the oil spread quickly or slowly?

A. When an oil spill happens, it spreads very rapidly unless it is contained by something (like a boom or a boat slip in a harbor). The lighter (less dense) the oil, the faster it spreads out to form a very thin sheen. For example, gasoline spreads faster than a heavy black oil, such as #6 fuel oil. Faster currents and winds can make oil spread faster. Temperature can sometimes make a difference in how fast an oil spreads. Colder oil is more viscous (doesn’t flow as well) and spreads more slowly. If it gets cold enough, oil doesn’t flow like a fluid anymore, but acts more like a solid (like tar or silly putty). We have to remember that when responding to oil spills in arctic areas. But under most conditions, within a very short period of time (minutes to a few hours for large spills), even very heavy oil has usually spread out enough that it is about as thin as a coat of paint on the wall.

Q. What exactly is an oil spill?

Oil Spill On Sand
Oil spills on different elements require vastly different treatment methods
A. The kind of oil spill we usually think about is the accidental or intentional release of petroleum products into the environment as result of human activity (drilling, manufacturing, storing, transporting, waste management). Examples would be things like
well blowouts, pipeline breaks, ship collisions or groundings, overfilling of gas tanks and bilge pumping from ships, leaking underground storage tanks, and oil-contaminated water runoff from streets and parking lots during rain storms.

Apart from oil spills caused by human actions, oil also is released into the environment from natural oil seeps in the ocean bottom. One of the best-known areas where this happens is Coal Oil Point along the California Coast near Santa Barbara. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of crude oil is released naturally from the ocean bottom every day just a few miles offshore from this beach. The photo on the left shows a large patty of weathered oil on the beach at Coal Oil Point.

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