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Alternative Response Technologies

Physical removal of all spilled oil from the environment, while a preferred option, is often not possible because the dynamic nature of the environment in which the oil is spilled may not allow time for effective physical removal. The capabilities and limitations of mechanical equipment are described in a pamphlet from the Region I and II Regional Response Teams. Non-mechanical response technologies use techniques other than booms, skimmers, vacuum trucks, and other such devices to remove oil from the surface of the water. Rapid removal techniques may have negative effects, so decisions to utilize them must balance the impact of the response method with the impacts prevented through their use. The OSC will balance impacts to minimize the overall consequences of the pollution incident.


Dispersants are specially designed surfactant/solvent mixtures that reduce the surface tension of the oil and break it up into small droplets that disperse within approximately the upper 10 meters of the water column. An increase in surface area and a corresponding increase in natural degradation, combined with dilution, reduce the impacts of dispersed oil.

In Situ Burning

In situ burning is the combustion of oil in place, typically requiring fire resistant containment booms to maintain sufficient oil thickness when employed on the open water.

Other Alternative Response Technologies

  • Bioremediation is the addition of nutrients, mixing, and/or microbes to enhance oil degradation, typically effective in oil spills as a polishing technique (not a rapid technique, so not appropriate for open water). The National Response Team has a detailed fact sheet (27k pdf file), or summary information on the technique.

  • Dispersants, Surface Washing Agents, Surface Collecting Agents, Bioremediation Agents, Microbiological Cultures, Enzyme Additives, Nutrient Additives, and Miscellaneous Oil Spill Control Agents are categories of products listed on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule, a requirement for consideration in spill response. Several Regional Response Teams have testing or utilizing procedures for further consideration of such products. The "Alternative Response Technology Evaluation System" (ARTES) is designed to support such evaluations.

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Last Updated:  06/29/2015