Oil Spills American Institute of Chemical Engineers Petroleum Oil Petroleum oil is a dark colored, flammable liquid found throughout the world in underground pockets in the earth’s outer layer of rocks. Refined petroleum oil has many uses including gasoline for cars; fuel for ships and airplanes; heating fuel for homes, schools, and businesses; the manufacture of plastic products; and much more. Oil producers ship millions of barrels of petroleum oil around the world each day. Oil tankers are huge ships that can carry more than 200,000 tons of oil. America’s Worst Oil Spill March 24, 1989 The Exxon Valdez oil tanker scraped along a rocky ocean reef in Alaska cutting open the hull of the ship. Thousands of tons of oil spilled into the ocean - enough to fill a football stadium. Damaging Effects of Oil Spills Oil on the water’s surface can catch on fire and pollute the air. Oil can sink to the ocean floor and destroy the habitats of sea animals. Oil can react with oxygen in the air to form acids that are carried by wind and eventually fall back to the ground as acid rain. Oil washes up on beaches and marshes resulting in life threatening habitats for wildlife species. Sea turtles, birds, whales, fish, otters and other animals can become oil-soaked and die. Dear, bears, wolves, dogs, and cats can die from eating oil- soaked beach plants and animal carcasses. Oil clogs the spaces between a bird’s feathers, making it impossible for them to fly. Many birds drown and sink in the ocean, never making it to the beaches. Cleaning oiled birds is not always successful. The birds are weak from struggling in the oil and may be ill from digesting oil while trying to clean their feathers. How can oil spills be cleaned up? Contain spill with oil booms. Booms are giant styrofoam logs wrapped in plastic that act like a floating fence. Vacuum up spilled oil with skimmer boats. A skimmer is a boat with special equipment that collects oil from the surface of calm waters. Absorb the oil with sawdust, straw, foam chips, or other sorbents. Use chemicals to disperse the oil into small droplets and let it drift out to sea. Biodegrade the oil by spreading microbes on beaches. Microbes are tiny organisms that can digest the oil. How can oil tanker spills be prevented? Design safer oil tankers. Double lined bottom instead of single metal layer. Separate compartments for oil storage. In a double-hull tanker, the cargo tanks are separated from the ships outer hull to protect against the impact of an accident. Thorough training of tanker crews. Develop better emergency procedures. Improve navigation skills. Properties of Oil that Affect Cleanup Viscosity A measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. The hotter a fluid, the more easily it flows. Oil spilled in the cold waters of Alaska spreads slower than oil spilled off the warm coast of South America. Density A measure of how heavy a substance is in a fixed amount of volume. Many oils float on top of water because they are lighter than water. Absorptivity A measure of how easily a fluid is absorbed, or soaked up, by a different material. Engineers use absorbent pillows to soak up spilled oil. Activity: Make a Vegetable-Oil Tanker 1. Shape a small piece of aluminum foil into a canoe - a little bigger than your thumb. Try to come up with a sturdy ship design. 2. Fill your tanker with cooking oil and float it in a dish half full of water. 3. When you are ready, tip the boat over. 4. Try to contain the floating oil with a loop of string or yarn. 5. Now use some cotton balls, a ripped piece of paper towel, or a small piece of lettuce to soak up the oil. Try all three materials to absorb the oil. 6. Record your experiment results on a sheet of paper: could the oil be contained with string, what material soaked up the oil the best, was your tanker easy to turn over. Oil Spills Engineers and scientists develop the technology to help prevent oil spills and to clean up oil spills.