Oil spill problems and sustainable response strategies through new technologies
Crude oil and petroleum products are widespread water and soil pollutants resulting from marine and terrestrial spillages. International statistics of oil spill sizes for all incidents indicate that the majority of oil spills are small (less than 7 tonnes). The major accidents that happen in the oil industry contribute only a small fraction of the total oil which enters the environment. However, the nature of accidental releases is that they highly pollute small areas and have the potential to devastate the biota locally. There are several routes by which oil can get back to humans from accidental spills, e.g. through accumulation in fish and shellfish, through consumption of contaminated groundwater. Although advances have been made in the prevention of accidents, this does not apply in all countries, and by the random nature of oil spill events, total prevention is not feasible. Therefore, considerable world-wide effort has gone into strategies for minimising accidental spills and the design of new remedial technologies. This paper summarizes new knowledge as well as research and technology gaps essential for developing appropriate decision-making tools in actual spill scenarios. Since oil exploration is being driven into deeper waters and more remote, fragile environments, the risk of future accidents becomes much higher. The innovative safety and accident prevention approaches summarized in this paper are currently important for a range of stakeholders, including the oil industry, the scientific community and the public. Ultimately an integrated approach to prevention and remediation that accelerates an early warning protocol in the event of a spill would get the most appropriate technology selected and implemented as early as possible – the first few hours after a spill are crucial to the outcome of the remedial effort. A particular focus is made on bioremediation as environmentally harmless, cost-effective and relatively inexpensive technology. Greater penetration into the remedial technologies market depends on the harmonization of environment legislation and the application of modern laboratory techniques, e.g. ecogenomics, to improve the predictability of bioremediation.