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A containment boom is a flexible, fence-like, water-borne pollutant containment barrier.

Oil Spill Cleanup Equipment

When an oil spill occurs, there are many ways to clean it up. One method includes mechanical means to contain and clean up the oil. Let’s take a look at some of the equipment needed:

Containment Boom

A containment boom is a flexible, fence-type, water-borne pollutant containment barrier that floats on the water.

Containment Boom Usage

  • Used to contain oil slicks and lift the oil off the water.
  • Boom is reusable and must be decontaminated after use.
  • It is very heavy to carry and difficult to work with.

Oil Skimmer

Oil Skimmers are a floating device used to skim oil off the surface of water or liquid. Many skimmers use oil-attracting materials to help draw the oil to the system and facilitate a more complete cleanup.

Skimmers can be towed, self-propelled, moored in river currents, or even used from shore. Many types of skimmers are available for use, depending on the kind of oil spilled and the weather conditions.

There are three common types of skimmers:

  1. Weir skimmers function by allowing the oil floating on the surface of the water to flow over a weir. The height of the weir may be adjustable.
  2. Drum skimmers function by using a rotating element such as a drum, to which the oil adheres. The oil is wiped from the surface of the drum and collected.
  3. Oleophilic skimmers use ropes, discs, or drums that are treated with a substance or otherwise manufactured to adhere to oil.

Other Equipment

Other equipment used for oil spill cleanup include the following:

Vacuums and Centrifuges

Oil can be sucked up along with the water, and then a centrifuge can be used to separate the oil from the water, allowing a tanker to be filled with near pure oil. Usually, the water is returned to the sea, making the process more efficient, but allowing small amounts of oil to go back as well.

Shovels and Other Road Equipment

Shovels are used to clean up oil on beaches.


These are large absorbents that absorb oil. To be useful in combating oil spills, sorbents need to be both oleophilic (oil-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent). Although they may be used as the sole cleanup method in small spills, sorbents are most often used to remove final traces of oil or in areas that cannot be reached by skimmers. Sorbent materials used to recover oil must be disposed of in accordance with approved local, state, and federal regulations. Any oil that is removed from sorbent materials must also be properly disposed of or recycled. (EPA)

Sorbents can be divided into three basic categories:

  1. Natural organic sorbents include peat moss, straw, hay, sawdust, ground corncobs, feathers, and other readily available carbon-based products.
  2. Natural inorganic sorbents consist of clay, perlite, vermiculite, glass wool, sand, or volcanic ash. They can adsorb from 4 to 20 times their weight in oil.
  3. Synthetic sorbents include man-made materials that are similar to plastics, such as polyurethane, polyethylene, and polypropylene and are designed to adsorb liquids onto their surfaces.


Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have shown microorganisms naturally present in the soils actively consume fuel-derived toxic compounds and transform them into harmless carbon dioxide. Furthermore, these studies have shown that the rate of these biotransformations could be greatly increased by the addition of nutrients. By "stimulating" the natural microbial community through nutrient addition, it is theoretically possible to increase rates of biodegradation and thereby shield the residential area from further contamination.

Bioremediation Accelerator

A bioremediation accelerator is a chemical containing no bacteria which bonds to soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons. Characteristics of bioremediation accelerators include the following:

  • They chemically and physically bond to both soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons.
  • They act as a herding agent in water and on the surface and the accelerator causes molecules to float to the surface of the water.
  • These are usually chemical products with hazardous properties.
  • Workers need additional training in their safe use and perhaps additional PPE. Check with your site supervisor for SDSs.
Controlled burning is the term given to the process of burning oil slicks at sea.

Controlled Burning

Controlled (In-situ) burning is the term given to the process of burning oil slicks at sea, at or close to the site of a spill. Burning may be seen as a simple method which has the potential to remove large amounts of oil from the sea surface. Controlled burns:

  • burn the oil off of the water
  • can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water
  • can only be done in low wind
  • can cause air pollution and respiratory ailments

There are a number of problems which limit the viability of this response technique. These include:

  • the ignition of the oil
  • maintaining combustion of the slick
  • the generation of large quantities of smoke
  • the formation and possible sinking of extremely viscous and dense residues
  • safety concerns

A controlled burn to clear marsh grasses can also be used BEFORE the oil reaches the shore.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. A flexible, fence-type, water-borne pollutant containment barrier that floats on the water is called _____.

2. Which of the following is a machine that separates oil floating on water?

3. Which of the following is a simple method which has the potential to remove large amounts of oil from the sea surface?

4. All of the following are problems which limit the viability of controlled burning, except _____.

5. Studies by the USGS had shown that _____ were actively consuming fuel-derived toxic compounds and transforming them into harmless carbon dioxide.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.