Oil spill cleanup in the ocean, will always be one of the toughest issues dealt with in marine conservation. Even in the calm, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with hundreds of ships and 10 million feet of boom at its disposal, the industry managed to skim only 3 percent and burn 5 percent of the recent BP oil spill. Most of the remainder is dispersed or buried in sand or sediments for nature to degrade.
When it comes to the Arctic, today there is no proven response method for the recovery of large-scale oil spills in ice- strewn waters. Using traditional methods, at about 20 to 30 percent ice coverage, booms start to become ineffective because you are collecting a lot of ice with the oil and the ice blocks the oil from reaching the skimmer at the back of the boom.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy—one of two working icebreakers in the nation’s fleet—concluded a sobering mission in September north of Barrow, Alaska, practicing deploying equipment they hoped they would never use: new, high-tech gear for responding to a massive oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.
Some of the new technology, which included military-style drone aircraft and an unmanned underwater vehicle was designed to hunt and track oil trapped in or under ice. Other devices, such as oil skimmers and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), were more robust Arctic versions of tools that took center stage during the 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Before the efforts of Healy, some alternative techniques were used that include i chemical dispersants and in situ burning. Chemical herders—surfactants that cause oil to contract until it is thick enough to skim or burn—are also being considered as a new tool to deal with oil in ice.