Chemical Oil Dispersant Information

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May 4th, 2010
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oil-slickDispersants are made up of solvents, surfactants and other additives which reduce the molecular cohesion causing oil to sit upon the surface of water.  Specifically designed for oil spills, dispersants do not remove oil from water but allow slicks to break apart and speed up the process of natural bio-degration.  When an oil spill has been treated with a dispersant, it is less likely to adhere to birds, vegetation, rocks, and shorelines.  Typically, dispersants are applied via airplanes, helicopter or on water vessels.  According to, BP has already purchased nearly one third of the world’s supply of dispersants, and if the leak is not contained or stopped within the next several weeks, the stockpile could be exhausted.

While the benefits of dispersants consist of reducing some of the on-shore environmental impact of an oil spill, there are a number of other potential environmental hazards.  Dispersants are chemical in nature, and thusly contain their own set of harmful toxins.  The exact ingredients of dispersants are secret due to trade laws, but some known substances are said to cause headaches, vomiting and reproductive issues.  Furthermore, while the use of dispersants may reduce the impacts of a spill on the shore, they may indeed cause just as much damage as they prevented off-shore. 

Dispersed oil that is not naturally dissolved prior to reaching the ocean floor become a food poison to microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain. In other words, the use of dispersants simply transfers the danger from certain life forms to other life forms, as it does not remove oil, it simply breaks it apart and spreads it out.  The idea is that dispersants will thin the oil sufficiently for nature to take over and finish the job.

All in all, this is yet another, devastatingly painful reminder of the desperate need for alternative energy sources which do not harm or disprupt the delicate balance of nature.  While BP claims to be making every effort to rectify the effects of the accident, it is this writer’s opion that no amount of effort will completely erradicate and un-do the extensive damage caused by this terrible accident.

National Geographic


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